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What Does A Leader Look Like?

round mirror

A study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) this week found that out of the UK’s largest 350 listed firms, more than 60% had not met a voluntary target of having 25% female board members. Indeed, nearly three quarters of FTSE 100 companies and 90% of FTSE 250 companies had no female executives at all on their boards.

It also identified that nearly a third of the UK’s biggest companies largely rely on personal networks to identify new board members, with most senior roles not being advertised.

This has led to familiar criticism that ‘old boys’ networks’ are stopping women, minorities and other fresh talent from progressing into being business leaders in the boardrooms of the UK.

Respect in the workplace

At Oasis, we believe a couple of very important things…

Firstly, that women should be empowered and respected in the workplace. We have many years’ experience of working alongside women ensuring that they have their voices heard, so they can become an integral part of framing the future of decision-making in both UK and international organisations. Not in a tokenistic way, but rather helping people listen and learn from their experience and expertise across a wide range of sectors to ensure better outcomes are realised. We also believe that to ignore over half your workforce – indeed to ignore over half the population – doesn’t make great business sense.

New ways of working

Secondly, that for businesses to be the best that they can be then they need to seriously consider new ways of working that can deliver better results.

If organisations don’t adapt and modernise then inevitably it is they themselves that will suffer. We have seen it with many well-known and well-respected high street businesses who have not kept up with the times. We have seen it with companies who have not adapted their business models to the demands of new technologies and new consumer habits and behaviours.

There is little point forcing businesses to pay lip service to modernising, if they are going to do it in a half-baked way with one arm tied behind their backs. They will always be doomed to fail. But we need to recognise that this is their loss.

If you want to be the decision-makers and opinion-formers of tomorrow, don’t work for the organisation, be the organisation.

Whilst you may not have the wealth and existing networks that established businesses have, what you do have is your own unique ideas and worldview. You have the ability to see things differently and work in new ways that haven’t been adopted by the mainstream yet. If big business is the hulking heavyweight boxer, you are the nimble underdog fighting southpaw – you are at a considerable disadvantage, but you can do the unexpected and will be quicker on your feet, finding it much quicker to adapt and stay out of reach.

One EHRC Commissioner this week said: “Our top boards still remain blatantly male and white.” Is that an acceptable situation? No. Do we need to do something about it? Yes. The question is what and how.

Leaders of tomorrow

Anyone can be the leaders of tomorrow. If we want sustainable and ethical businesses that make sense for the long-term then we need to see that being lived out in action. We need to think differently and live differently – find a new future which we can help frame and nurture.

We do not live in Victorian times where people should ‘know their place’ and show due deference to their ‘elders and betters’. We have won the battles to be treated as equals and need to step out confidently in that knowledge. We all make mistakes, but the trick is to learn from them and come back stronger. Your view is as relevant and meaningful as the next person’s.

Maybe our organisations should more closely reflect our society and our society should more closely reflect us, but that is a dream which may never become a reality. We can only reflect on ourselves, our contribution and the impact individually and corporately that we have on others. That is something which we do have control over.

And we also know from our extensive work with many leading businesses that many do want to look at things in fresh ways. Many want to give more responsibility to their workforce giving them more say and ownership over decision-making. Many want to move to models of shared leadership that empower and utilise their staff – the greatest natural resource that any company has at its disposal. These are the pioneers and change-makers, the businesses which do not want to rest on their laurels in the present but rather adapt and evolve so they can more readily impact the conversations and transactions of the future.

Sharing leadership is not a sign of weakness, rather it is an act of faith that people in your organisation are capable of stepping up to meet the challenge. Good leadership is not about concentrating power amongst a few people at the top of your business, it is about encouraging more leaderful behaviour and attitudes throughout your organisation.

Is a leader more likely to be white? Is a leader more likely to be male? Not at all.

If you want to see what a leader might look like, then just pick up a mirror.

If you are interested in exploring your leadership questions in your own context, developing yourself as a leader or developing leaders in your organisation, please take a look at the Real Leaders programme, email us or call us on 01937 541700 for a conversation about how we can help.