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Last updateFri, 24 Mar 2017 12pm

 

Leaders 'play it safe'

Graham Jones

What is needed is real leaders who challenge convention and innovate, cultivate creativity, lead by example in driving change, create an inspiring view of the future, challenge behaviours that are unproductive, make those decisions that might be unpopular but are the ‘right’ things to do, and tackle the hard issues and confront them head on.

A recent survey of 520 employees in UK organisations conducted by us showed that half of the employees surveyed said that their leaders ‘play it safe’. More than half say that their leaders encourage conformity to tried and tested methods rather than challenging accepted ways of doing things. Two thirds said that their leader does not make the necessary changes when top performance is not being delivered. And nearly 40 per cent said that their leaders are slow, or fail, to address underperformance.

I have worked with numerous senior finance leaders and managers and suspect that the data cited above would reflect a similar, if not even worse, situation in their case. It is too easy for leaders and managers working in finance to hide behind inflexible compliance and governance requirements, burying their heads in processes and numbers.

What is needed is real leaders who challenge convention and innovate, cultivate creativity, lead by example in driving change, create an inspiring view of the future, challenge behaviours that are unproductive, make those decisions that might be unpopular but are the ‘right’ things to do, and tackle the hard issues and confront them head on.

These are the leaders, particularly in finance, who can be a breath of fresh air and make a real difference in organisations. But how should senior finance leaders and managers prepare and develop themselves to ensure that they can be real leaders and make an impact?

Becoming a real leader means developing a mindset and behaviours that include:

• accepting accountability when things go wrong;
• having the confidence to let go;
• being willing to make mistakes;
• having the courage to make and own tough decisions;
• having the conviction to do the ‘right thing’;
• focusing on creating a road map for the future;
• accepting the responsibility to drive change;
• being comfortable with the visibility of being a good role model;
• striving for continual personal growth and learning.

This mindset and associated behaviours means that these leaders must develop the ability to build a resilient self-belief and maintain motivation when things are tough. They must be able to remain in control when the pressure is at its most ferocious, staying focused on the things that matter and harnessing thoughts and feelings so that they remain positive. Bouncing back from setbacks and learning from mistakes are also crucial in becoming real leaders.

These are not things that are easily learned in personal skills workshops but can be proactively developed ‘on the job’ via a variety of means.

• Creating and communicating visions to their teams. This ensures they are proactive in focusing on the future and, by going public on it with their team, become visible and ‘own’ it.
• Setting goals that that are clearly aligned to the vision and will drive their day-to-day leadership behaviours. These should be in the form of process goals around ‘how to be’ as opposed to ‘what to do’ as a leader.
• Seeking impactful developmental feedback on a regular basis rather than once a year during performance reviews.  
• Finding a challenging coach who has permission to push them outside the boundaries of their safety zone, encouraging risk-taking, making the tough decisions they have been avoiding and getting them to think beyond what they believe has worked in the past. The coach should also support their development of mental toughness to enable these leaders to thrive on the pressure that comes with being a real leader.
• Finding opportunities to lead cross-functional workstreams that are focused on change initiatives.
• Finding ways of having a voice in the organisation by gaining access to the most senior leaders.  

Senior finance leaders and managers do not have to conform to the compliance-focused and numbers-driven stereotype. By being real leaders, they can inspire their people and make a real difference.

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