Mawer Funds: ‘Leadership Myths and Realities’
Many people may have shied away from leadership roles because they are not comfortable with a typical command and control, top-down management style. Over the years, I have learned that many “truths” about what it takes to be an effective business leader are much closer to myth than reality. Separating these myths from reality can help us redefine what it means to be a leader. And in my experience, this new kind of leader can be a much more adept decision-maker and problem solver than the old school dictator ever was.
Mawer Funds – Myth #1: Leaders have all the answers. After all, “the buck stops here.”
Reality: Excellent leaders don’t need to have all the answers; they just need to be good at asking the right questions. It is simply impossible to be an expert in everything. In an investment management firm, this expertise would include knowing all the ins and outs of investing, client relationships, trading, operations, technology, compliance, governance, human resources and finance, etc. Clearly that level of knowledge is an insurmountable task, but it is possible to build a diverse team of experts and create a safe environment for asking questions, evaluating alternatives and expressing opinions.
When you realize that it’s okay not to have all the answers, a huge burden is lifted. I now know that it’s more important to build the right team and create a culture that fosters collaboration and constructive debate. Engaging with others is the best way to arrive at the most informed decisions.
Mawer Funds – Myth #2: It’s lonely at the top.
Reality: In my current role, I see myself as one of 110 employees and 16 people leaders, with my main focus on managing the firm. When you have 109 people to collaborate with, it’s definitely not lonely.
Mawer Funds – Myth #3: Leadership is about power and toughness—nice guys finish last.
Reality: Leaders need to be willing to make tough decisions that sometimes directly impact other people’s lives, but this can be done while being a kind, empathetic human being. Most people’s performance is more likely to improve when they have an attuned leader who takes the time to help them develop clear expectations and goals that play to their strengths. In addition, a leader who is able to inspire employees to achieve a shared purpose will have far greater success than one who reverts to the old-style carrot and stick approach of using things like compensation and promotional opportunities to wield power.
Mawer Funds – Myth #4: It’s all about the bottom line.
Reality: People are much more likely to deliver something of value when they are driven by purpose and passion—whether it is making food that people really like to eat, technology that people really like to use, or investment portfolios that provide the returns people desire. What effective leadership is really all about is recognizing and focusing on those things that contribute the most to adding value. Creating an open culture, allowing people to work primarily in their “genius” areas and improving day-to-day processes can all foster a passionate and innovative workplace. When you do these things, the bottom line will take care of itself.
I have learned that having all the answers, and being tough and bottom-line focussed does not make an effective leader. It is very much the opposite—being human, humble and relying on others is much more powerful. Understanding that it’s not necessary to change who you are in order to be a successful leader has been a very important lesson.