Manageable Guides

Expert views on topics relevant to all leaders and teams.

James Ashton is an author, podcaster and speaker. He writes and speaks on business and leadership. He's spent years interviewing leaders across sectors and continues to discuss the art of leadership. In this guide, he outlines how you combine Purpose, Authenticity and Delivery in order to become an effective leader.

Hi, I'm James Ashton, I write and speak on business and leadership. I've spent years interviewing leaders across sectors and continue to discuss the art of leadership as an author, a podcaster, and a speaker. So, what makes an effective leader? I think there are a number of different types of leaders and what unites them is their ability to juggle a whole range of demands and come out on top by combining purpose, authenticity and delivery. So today, I'm going to explore those three areas to tell you how you can be an effective leader. I'm James Ashton and this is my Manageable Guide to effective leadership.

As a manager, you must inspire those around you. Leaders operate not just at the top of an organisation, but right through it. You set the tone and you define that tone for everybody else in the organisation. That's why it's important to explain what you stand for and by extension, what your organisation stands for. The 20th century economist and free marketeer, Milton Friedman famously said that the business of business is business. But that view is somewhat out of date these days. So that drive for profits still exists, but the enlightened leader today uses their platform to do more for their teams, their suppliers, and the wider community. The first thing you need to do is define your purpose. What should your organisation stand for, beyond generating a profit? Now that might not be immediately obvious. So talk to your teams, talk to external stakeholders, take inspiration from nonprofit organisations. Increasingly, I think charities and companies are looking like each other. Companies are out there looking for sustainable causes and how to deliver them and charities are increasingly acting commercially. The difference between the two sides is how is that purpose funded? Increasingly, companies can look across to charities, for ideas on setting goals, collaboration, and motivating workforces many of whom remember, are voluntary.

Next, you need to align that purpose with your organisation and your team's. Self interest is fine. But how does something that's set at the top level, operate right the way through your organisation and on a day to day basis? Top line targets are essential, but then you need to instigate monthly updates on progress and make sure that everyone feels they can be part of that. Finally, live it. Company purpose cannot be locked in a box or kept behind glass to be broken in case of emergency. The best leaders make sure it's out there, front and centre and that gives everyone on your team the opportunity to live it and partake in it too. So look at Helena Morrissey when she was running the fund manager at Newton Investment Management, she was also championing boardroom diversity through her 30% Club. Or look at RJ Banga at MasterCard, who's made financial inclusion the core purpose of his company. Every time he was on a platform, RJ talked about the need for equality and the importance of making sure that money flows reach everybody on the planet. It's enlightened self-interest, but it's a win-win.

So, purpose in summary: define it, align it and live it. And once you have those elements in place as a manager, you will notice smoother harmony, greater collaboration and improve loyalty. So, what does an authentic leader look like? Think about James Daunt at Waterstones and Barnes and Noble, he's a self-confessed bookworm. Think about Joey Gonzalez at Barry's Bootcamp. He's a fitness fanatic. They can't help loving what they do, and passion like that cannot be manufactured. You don't need to be in love with your product or service just as much as they are. Start by acting human. Too many leaders in the past went for the superhuman look, but that doesn't wash anymore. There are three simple principles to being an authentic leader. First, be honest. Don't say what you don't mean because it won't pass muster for long. Whenever I media train executives, I emphasise the importance of truthfulness. And as a journalist whenever I interview them, it's not difficult to uncover someone as not being very, very convincing. If you make mistakes, admit to them. Only then can you move on. And your team will give you credit for it. It encourages loyalty.

Next, be attentive. Listen to feedback wherever you can get it. Try to filter out the reality from what people think you want to hear. Better still, consult on the way forward. Make your team part of the decision making, while emphasising that you will still have the final say. At ENGIE, the big French energy provider, the former boss Isabel Kosha consulted with 150,000 staff before deciding to press ahead with plans to sell off 20% of assets and pursue a low carbon future. By doing that, it meant that her entire team bought into the vision before she went ahead with it. And finally, be consistent. Leaders today are operating in the Glassdoor era. It means that internal gripes and even internal praise can be externalised very, very quickly. That's why it's important to make sure you're having the same conversation with your team, with suppliers and with other stakeholders. So authenticity in summary: be honest, be attentive, be consistent. If you can combine these three elements into your leadership style, as a manager, clients and teams are more likely to trust and respect you.

The average corporate challenge is getting bigger and more complex. There are numerous targets set these days, financial, environmental, and so on. Some of them will be set by you, more likely they'll be set by your seniors, your board if you're a CEO, or your line manager if you're a leader within the organisation. What looks good and how you deliver on those targets, often is in the eye of the beholder. Let me give you an example, Unilever is the international group behind brands such as Hellman's mayonnaise, and Dove shampoo. For more than a decade, it was led by Paul Polman. He refocused the group on environmental causes, what Paul managed to do is create an environment for success. He inspired his teams to do better and look at new ways of running the business. And he also inspired people outside his organisation to do better too. But if you dig into the targets that were set, there's actually quite a lot that Polman failed on.

So, most managers don't have the luxury of missing targets. I think what's important is to balance delivery with the bigger picture and keep those around you informed of progress. A manager needs to take their team on a journey. How can you show some progress towards your ultimate goal? This involves managing up as well as managing down. You must be willing to adapt to events. Legacy comes later. If you're focused too much on the future, you won't be able to function effectively in the here and now. And then there's profit. For all the talk of purpose beyond profit, it is profit that gives commercial leaders the licence to do everything else. Never lose sight of hitting those numbers first and foremost. And finally, people. It's your people who will enable delivery.

Now, leadership is not a popularity contest, but it's vital to spend time with your people to understand what makes them tick, to make sure they're onside and to make sure they understand what you expect from them. Communicating with your team, building a relationship and investing in their progress is vital for any leader. So, when you move up through an organisation or out onto your next challenge, the biggest compliment of your leadership is when your successor learned everything from you as part of your team. So, delivery in summary is to think about progress, profit, and people. As a manager, you need to find purpose, strive for authenticity, and achieve meaningful delivery. By doing this, you can be a more effective leader better prepared for the challenges ahead and supported by more loyal and motivated teams. I'm James Ashton and this is my Manageable Guide to effective leadership.