Skip to main Content
Search site

Search site

Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals

Search and filter articles

Career development

Career advice for job seekers

Visionary leadership 07/11/2013

What does it take to be a great leader and why should vision & values, as well as culture & community form part of a company's core DNA? Natalie Cooper posed a number of questions to the HR blogging community via the Changeboard blog to find out.

Visionary leadership

Click to jump to section

  1. No longer about profit
  2. Your feedback
  3. HR Carnival – the future of leadership

No longer about profit

The financial crisis and economic state has forced employees to question the ethics and values of their own leaders. Many employees have lost faith and trust in the organisations they work for.

Five years ago when I first started reporting on CSR, it was considered a PR green-wash tick-box exercise. Leaders brushed it aside. A policy that didn’t make any business sense. Why offer employees a day off per year to volunteer in the community which impacts the bottom line in terms of lost productivity and absence? However, with the economic crisis, MPs' expenses scandal, banking crisis and riots, it seems that the adage: ‘power to the people’ has never been more so.

Ben Thornton, associate partner of Atos Origin, says: “These are watershed times, people have lost their trust and faith in leaders. As shareholders have battened down the hatches, some leaders have reacted by reducing levels of communication about the state of the business and the rationale for initiatives. This has resulted in the unexpected departure of colleagues and decapitated middle managers as they have no idea either what’s happening or why.” He provides the analogy that the era of leadership where ‘it’s all about profit – don’t eat lunch’ is disappearing. People are realising that metaphorically, if you don’t eat lunch, you die (at work).

Thornton argues that time and again research has shown that successful organisations, particularly in challenging times, are those that tap into the motivation and expertise of their people. Successful leaders are the ones who understand this and remain true to themselves, build a successful team around them and empower people. He explains that when leaders are authentic, they are able to tap into the motivations of every individual so that they feel their personal values are aligned with that of the organisation. This creates an environment where people feel engaged. “Leaders have a pot of gold they can dig into – their people. When profit and revenues are being squeezed, business growth will come from the people who are driving the organisation. If you inspire your people you can get an extra 20% discretionary effort.”

Your feedback

Jonathan Wilson says:

In his book: “Management the Marks & Spencer Way”, published in 1994, Lord Sieff wrote:

“A successful business which looks after its employees and shareholders also has a responsibility to the wider community and is proud of acting accordingly.”

Ultimately, whatever the form of economic activity, it is people that count the most. It’s interesting also to read David Packard, one of the founders of HewlettPackard, in his 1995 book: “The HP Way”. He writes about a meeting that he attended in 1949:

“[Someone] made the point that management’s responsibility is to the shareholders – that’s the end of it. And I objected. I said: ‘I think you’re absolutely wrong. Management has a responsibility to its employees, it has a responsibility to its customers, it has a responsibility to the community at large.’ And they almost laughed me out of the room.”

Anyone is leading who connects other people, who connects people to their life purpose, who demonstrates a better way, who inspires another to achieve anything noble.

Stephen Archer says:

The role of a leader is to set the direction, method, tone and values for an organisation and all of its people and stakeholders. The difference between poor and exceptional leadership is the difference between success and failure – it is that simple. Businesses are all about processes, controls and metric today. But if people are led well and given the freedom to give their best, they will always raise a business above mediocrity and that includes the highly controlled businesses. The potential for people, to make a huge difference to a business is too often lost now in the fearful existence of senior leaders trying to remove uncertainty. Leaders that make a difference are those with razor sharp clarity of purpose and dedication to the mission of the business which must include employee and customer care. Not lip service – but the real thing.

Carol Wilson says:

I think this is all about authenticity. I have worked with many leaders who are failing to engage their staff, losing them or bullying them. I would say that most of them want to be liked, and to get on well with other people. They are simply putting into action the poor leadership they have experienced themselves, from parents, teachers or their own bosses – they have no other role models. But habits can be changed, and after a short amount of training poor leaders seem to be able to absorb new communication skills which improve not only the lives of their workforce but their relationships at home and with friends as well.

What has this to do with Corporate Social Responsibility? Most people like helping others, it is hard-wired into our evolution. Ideally a leader will provide a place where people can think clearly and engage in their authentic style, plus specific encouragement, such as one allocated day a month, to enjoy the satisfaction of making a contribution to the wider world. Once the seeds are laid, cultures like this grow of their own accord because it is more enjoyable than the non-caring, money-grabbing: ‘to busy to eat lunch never mind help people’ kind of way.

Anna Marie Detert says:

For those of us who are passionate about people, it is intuitive to see the link between caring about our people and a more successful enterprise. However, there are many leaders who are not naturally sympathetic, but know that they need to manage and retain their key people, as evidenced in our recent C-level survey with 3,000 business leaders.

So what to do, when the socially responsible, caring side just isn’t in your DNA? Research shows that even when leaders don’t feel the feelings, if they carry out the actions associated with social responsibility and care, such as providing charity involvement opportunities, sufficient hot desks and parking spaces, employees feel as if they are cared for. I’m not advocating that leaders should completely ‘fake it’, but that they should get advice about which activities matter to employees in their organisation and execute on these, with great effect on employees’ sense of purpose and greater meaning.

Michael Doolin says:

Leadership for me is about the inspiring people to realise potential, to find their respective buttons to press that make them bigger, stronger and more resourceful and more humble. It’s about that one phrase, remark or behaviours that sets someone on a path to reach a seemingly difficult destination. But the way in which it is done, the sustainability, the care, the regard, the sensitivity, the uniqueness and distinctiveness of input will separate the good leaders from the average. The difference between exceptional and good leadership means within time average results are being seen as the norm. Exceptional leaders make you imagine every day that you can overcome Everest.

Chris says:

Good article, leadership isn’t complicated; it is about doing a few key things well, all the time. Build trust, develop credibility, be consistent and communicate well. Sound easy, why do so many leaders get it wrong? Because they don’t care about the people who work with them, they care only about themselves. This is very short sighted, if you look after your people they will deliver far more than you ask of them, and they will enjoy doing it. Which means everyone wins!

HR Carnival – the future of leadership

A number of questions were put forward to the HR Carnival bloggers:

  • What are your values?
  • How do you embed your values from the top all the way down through the organisation?
  • How do you sustain employee loyalty, commitment and pride within your organisation?
  • How do you emotionally engage with your people so they act in a socially responsible way within the business and the wider community?
  • How do you empower your people to pursue their own career dreams?
  • How do you create community spirit within your organisation?
  • What’s the future of leadership?

Hannah Stratford, MSc CPsychol, head of business psychology at ETS states in her posting 'Leadership: keeping it real: "If employees don’t trust or respect a leader, they won’t be motivated to do their best. Our research, featuring 400,000 employees, shows that one third don’t think that their senior leaders are trusted or respected. A further 27% don’t think senior leaders are leading by example. This can have major implications for organisational performance. If a leader lacks integrity or isn’t living an organisation’s values, how can they expect their employees to do so?

"How companies act has never been more transparent. Cultural values, social responsibility, ethics and giving back to the community are important for employees. And they are equally important to prospective employees and customers. As the figurehead, a leader must embody the values in order to engage employees and earn trust."

In his posting: The Carnivore of Values - Eating Up Human Resources! Ian Welsh begins by asking: "What are my values? Very simply I believe organizations have an obligation towards their employees and the community/society within which they operate. My values as a leader are to promote efficiency and engagement and to uphold the reasonable rights of employees (all levels)". He concludes: "The future of leadership must be tied to application of corporate values. If the values implied, based on your questions, become reality and commitment to community/society is considered at least as important as bottom line, the leaders of the future will be wonderful people."

"Are organizational values that important?" This is the question raised by Cathy Missildine-Martin, chief performance officer for Intellectual Capital Consulting. She says: "I feel that is very important to have stated organizational values. Not the ones that are the nice to hear, like integrity, excellence, and customer focused. But the ones that really describe the guts of your organization and why you are special.

"If I had to list some for our company they would be:

  1. Nimble, can react to needs quickly
  2. Flexible, can change on a dime
  3. Customized approach to solutions
  4. Entrepreneurial, always reinventing ourselves
  5. Creative, use newest techniques
  6. FUN!

"It's important that we select those values that resonate with our employees and customers."

While Julie Moreland, CEO of PeopleClues shares details on effective leadership and fostering high morale, especially when faced with financial challenges, in her latest FastCompany blog post 'American airlines just dodged a bullet, what can you learn from their dilemma'.

HR expert Susan Heathfield comments in her posting 'It's Not Lack of Strategic Direction': "I don't think that most organizations have a lack of strategic direction or that the executive team fails to plan, fails to set a reasonable direction, or fails to pick appropriate products to sell or markets to pursue. What the executive team fails to do is effectively communicate." She goes on to say: "A manager must sit with each reporting employee and review the goals and strategic direction and work with the employee to answer the question: 'What does this mean for my job and my goals?' Individual performance development planning makes the perfect implementation practice for this level of deep communication."

Kathi Graham-Leviss, president of XB Consulting, shares how leaders can keep high performers engaged and committed to the company in her most recent post on XB Consulting’s blog.

Co-founder and president of Onewire, Brin McCagg, discusses the importance of relationship- building that starts right from the recruitment stage to attract (and maintaining those relationships) on the SourceCon blog.

Take part: join the discussions here:

Natalie Cooper, editor, Changeboard

Natalie Cooper, editor, Changeboard

I’m a storyteller at heart. Do you help develop your employees, provide them with a career that gives meaning to their life or offer advice to help empower people? If you have a story to share, please email: