A few weeks ago, quite by chance, I met Louis Shakinovsky in the lounge at Warwick Conferences Scarman, where he’d been having lunch with local Warwick Business School luminaries Ashley Roberts and Rachel Cuddihy prior to delivering a talk to students as part of WBS’ International Speaker Series. Some utterly enjoyable and very engaging conversation – and one talk – later, I found myself thinking about leadership.
Louis has been described as a polymath. Certainly he is the only lawyer I know who is not only also a practising clinical hypnotherapist on Harley Street but has a pretty impressive track record in business – currently Chairman of Global Dental/Clove (which he was instrumental in growing into India’s largest dental group in fewer than 5 years) and Chairman and co-founder, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Centre of Excellence, he previously held numerous positions over 50 years at Belron including Main Board Director and Executive Head of Legal, during which time he led over 800 mergers and acquisitions and became the only non-family shareholder in Belron’s history.
I took away several things about leadership from Louis’ talk. The first was an acrostic, about which I entirely agree with Louis in that it’s what you not only need to look for in the people you hire, but also what you need to find in yourself:
The other things were three quotes from the evening. “It’s all about how you choose your people”, “If you’ve done anything wrong, fix it”, and “Leadership is doing what you say you will”.
There are countless books and papers out there about leadership. It means different things to different people around the world, and different things in different situations. According to Eisenhower (apparently), it’s the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. In other approximations, it isn’t management and it isn’t authority. Great leadership probably involves a combination of traits, including focus, clarity, decisiveness, confidence, accountability and honesty. Personally, I think good (or bad) leadership is the kind of thing that resists definition, but you know it when you see it.
Like everyone else I’ve seen my share of good and bad leaders. The bad: Leaders who are only ‘leaders’ by virtue of their position, and leaders promoted beyond their level of competence. Leaders who take more than their share of the credit, who let their egos get in the way, or who micro-manage because they’re afraid to give others the reins. Leaders who let their junior staff take the blame. Leaders who forget where they’ve come from and who end up entirely disconnected from the people who make up the business.
There is a lot about leadership that is wrapped up in delivering success: bottom lines, market share, victories at sea. There have certainly been plenty of successes in Louis’ career, but what I really liked was that the main message of the evening wasn’t to do with business success (not directly, at any rate). Rather, it was about integrity, credibility, and mutual trust and respect, which, when I thought about it, are probably the aspects of leadership that I most value.
So, the good: Leaders who stay true to their word, who remember their roots and who aren’t above mucking in when it becomes necessary. Leaders who are honest and who wield their authority, power and influence fairly and without ego. Leaders with empathy who treat people the way they would like to be treated, and who make people want to give of their best because they’re proud of their jobs and to be part of an enterprise they believe in. Leaders who take the time to recruit good people, and then trust them with a licence to operate, as well as the necessary tools and support to let them do what they do best.
Tell me your thoughts. Is this too idealistic or simplistic? I don’t think there’s any good reason why it shouldn’t be possible to build a successful business centred around this kind of ethos, but instead there are far too many examples of toxicity out there.
What example are you setting as a leader?