Our Thoughts

To serve them all my days

This piece first appeared in our book “How to become a Talented Performer: A formula for early career success” available at Amazon here

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

Jeff Bezos, Amazon


Talented Performers recognise and understand that creating a consistently excellent customer experience ‘is’ the business and not just a component of it. The best providers of outstanding customer service are not willing to sacrifice this standard, regardless of the pressures put upon them by the job. They know they may be working in an organisational setting that cares less about customers than they do, yet they continue to provide an incredible level of performance. It is as important to them as individuals to give such great service as it is to the people that they serve to receive it. They know that results and the impacts of their efforts may not be reciprocated immediately (even though they often are!)but they are willing to continue to focus on the person they are delivering for. They are ‘others-aware’ and know that to serve someone else, to a high level on a consistent basis, is not a capability everyone finds easy. Their developed skills in this area are something that organisations view as incredibly valuable.

Another key element of providing this level of service on a consistent, minute-by-minute basis, is that Talented Performers accurately know what great service is. They know what it is to receive it; they know what it is to deliver it and they understand the mind-set and the skills required to nail it each and every time. They also know that to serve excellently is not the same as being a doormat to be walked all over. There is huge difference to being keen to serve and being servile. The former is both an intelligent and honourable position to take; the latter is the position taken by those who lack self-assuredness and/or who misunderstand the difference.

Customer experience vs Customer Service

These two terms are often used in the same sentence to mean different things or in different sentences to mean the same thing. They actually do not mean the same thing. Customer experience is wide, broad and usually something that is systematically addressed at an organisational level. Customers experience an organisation in many ways, including from the reputation they ‘hear’ about, to the advertising they ‘see’, through to how they ‘feel’ about your brand. Customer service is, by comparison, narrow. It is the interactions that customers have directly with staff. In the context of being a customer-focused Talented Performer, we will limit our discussion to the ways that employees interact with customers to provide customer service on an individual basis, usually face-to-face.

Internal vs External

At this point it is important to identify a special category of customers. There are people who are almost certainly never going to pay you a penny for your work: they are the people within your organisation that you support and to whom you provide a service. Your ‘internal’ customers are at least as important as the customers from outside your organisation. You interact with these people on a daily basis. You know some incredibly well, others less so. Some internal customers are peers of yours and some are senior (or very senior) to you. Regardless of their status, you need to be able to provide what they need, when they need it and at a quality that is at least as good as they hoped for. Everything outlined in this chapter is applicable to your interactions with internal customers. Adopting these strategies and tools will enable you to provide outstanding service to your peers, colleagues and team-members as well as those we more traditionally think of as customers

Customers: Why bother?

The Talented Performer Survey highlighted key short to medium-term business challenges that organisations reported they were facing. Central to the list that emerged from the survey was the theme of Growth. Organisations told us that they were focused on keeping current clients and finding new ones. People who succeeded in providing outstanding service were likely to be recognised and rewarded for doing so as it was vital in helping organisations achieve their aims.

Glenn P Wallis helps organisations develop leaders who can positively shape your organisation’s culture. If you want to re-shape your culture through great leadership then please contact Glenn here.

Hidden impacts of leadership progression


What got you here hasn’t got them here

Your continued rise up the leadership ranks is due, in part, to your ability to deliver high standards. I’m guessing you achieve such goals due to your internal drivers. You would continue to deliver these strong results even when your own boss doesn’t recognise your work. You succeed because of the intrinsic reward you get from seeing a job well done. It’s satisfying.

This motivated approach of the classic self-starter, gets recognised by someone within the organisation and you end up being promoted and asked to lead others. The hope is that you will be able to sprinkle larger and larger teams with some of the magic that you have been seen to apply to your own work. The Board, major shareholders and other key stakeholder will want you to be able to clone yourself.


And of course, that hope of replicating your talents in others, presents a massive and rather fundamental problem. It can’t be done. Moreover, of all the people tasked with such a challenge, you may be one of the worst placed to achieve it.

What you do comes naturally – to you.

If we accept, you and I are uniquely different, it suggests rather than assume I am able or willing to do what you do in the way that you do it, that you as my leader help me find my own ways to achieve, which fit me better. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the approach to external recognition. We know you don’t need it (much) but it’s likely that I do. If you apply your own standards to me, I am likely to become de-motivated. I need the energy and learning that comes directly from you providing me with feedback and yes, even some praise now and again. If I were motivated in the same way that you are, I would be sitting where you are. I’m not. I’m me and you are you.Stop thinking that I work in the same way you do. I don’t. Give me some recognition. Provide me with some feedback. Stretch me. Support me. I can flourish in my own way.

Glenn provides support for organisations that want to improve a wide range of business results through improving their leadership strength. When you are ready to create a strong leadership bench you can contact Glenn here.

6 Ways to improve Bad Behaviour

i“Heroes are those who can somehow resist the power of the situation and act out of noble motives, or behave in ways that do not demean others when they easily can.”

Philip G Zimbardo

The context-specific nature of behaviour

Today’s acceptable behaviour may become tomorrow’s abhorrence. It is difficult to make moral judgement about behaviour in the past and compare it to what we know and the standards we hold today. The sexist nature of much of the treatment of women in the workplace is a relevant example. In the not so distant past, women were denied some workplace roles because of their gender. Something that would, (hopefully!), now be considered unconscionable.

Similarly, in relation to senior leaders who once used a singular leadership style towards their ‘subordinates,’ regularly berating or belittling them, would be held to account in most (!) large organisations today.

Things move on. Expectations change. And so should the standards of behaviour that shareholders, customers and employees should demand of those that are designated to lead UK businesses and organisations.

Behaviour begets behaviour

The word ‘toxic’ in relation to behaviour has been used a fair bit in recent years. The analogy to an infection that spreads, when applied to organisational behaviour, turns out to be incredibly apt. According to research, highly effective leaders promote better business performance not just of those they lead, but from those in the layer below those they directly lead. Whilst this is great if your organisation is full of brilliant leaders, the bad news is that negative leadership behaviour is more ‘infectious’ than positive behaviour. So if you have leaders demonstrating poor behaviour, not only will that impact those around them but can outweigh the impacts of an equal number of highly effective leaders.

So, not only is there a multiplying effect to bad behaviour but it directly has a number of negative impacts on those that are on the receiving end of poor leadership behaviour, namely:

  1. Less effort employed to tasks and projects
  2. Less time spent at work
  3. Less commitment to the organisations vision
  4. Reduced work quality
  5. Increase in time wasted on reacting to poor behaviour Lower customer service scores

(e.g. Wegge et al, 2015)

How to improve bad behaviour

As a senior leader, here are six ways that you can make a positive impact to negative leadership behaviours:

Reward appropriately.
It is possible that your reward system actually – probably inadvertently – increases rewards for behaviours that would be considered negative. An example might be in a sales environment where the ‘what’ is rewarded but the ‘how’ those sales are achieved, is not considered in the ultimate reward structure.

Provide feedback
Ensure that as a senior leader you are providing timely, clear feedback about behaviour you witness that is inappropriate. Here is a brilliant tip from Lieutenant General David Morrison about the idea of nipping poor behaviour in the bud, “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” It takes a bit of moral courage to do tackle things but much easier to do so early than leave things to fester and impact others.

Provide development
Feedback is usually only helpful if it is accompanied by some development opportunity. Break the mindset that suggests learning needs to be formalised. Help people learn by doing. Get them a mentor or a coach. Meet with them on a weekly basis and you ‘teach’ them. Whatever it takes to help them improve.

Role model appropriately
As a leader you are always role modelling, so bear that in mind from the moment you enter your place of work. Proactively consider how you want to ‘show up.’ In fact, you are always role modelling to yourself, so actually you need to bear that in mind every minute of every day. Forever.

Hire for behaviours
You can reduce the amount of poor behaviour by recruiting in a more targeted way in the first place. Be clear on what you are looking for in new team members. Consider the values you want people to be able to demonstrate and then recruit against that – at times, even at the expense of technical skills, if you have to, these can always be taught later.

Conduct exit interviews
When people leave and move on to hopefully even better things, ask them about their experience on your team. Discuss behaviours that helped and behaviours that hindered them being able to produce brilliant work every day. Start with providing them the space to review your behaviours first!

“I learned along the way, you know, culture is behaviour. That’s all it is; culture is people’s behaviour” Ginni Rometty

Great leadership inspires and demands wonderful behaviours, that in themselves generate incredible workplace cultures. When you need help developing highly effective leaders you can contact Glenn P Wallis here.


How you can lead high performance

Note 24 Apr 2017 (2)

Do you sometimes think that you are too soft in your leadership approach? Are people tending to abuse both your helpful nature and your willingness to give them a second, third or fourth chance? Or are you getting feedback that your leadership style is way too demanding – people might throw around terms such as ‘abrasive,’ ‘direct’ or behind your back ‘tyrant’ or worse, ‘bully’?

If you recognise either of these scenarios it would appear that you currently have a critical leadership balance that is somewhat out of whack. Your supportive side is outweighing your challenging side, or you are being too challenging and insufficiently supportive. Both lead to problems and thankfully, both can be easily remedied. This article will help you understand:

  • your ‘typical’ balance of challenge and support
  • the changes you can make towards a more effective balance
  • why flexibility is so important

Not an exact science

Whilst the idea can be traced back to Nevitt Sanford’s work (1962) that a combination of support and challenge promotes growth, there is little empirical evidence to suggest exactly what the best blend of challenge and support should be to illicit development in someone. However, if we accept that growth stalls in an environment which is either too tough and demanding, or too soft and cosy, then we can take some time to look at how you manage to create the best environment for people to flourish and develop.

Start with one

In my experience the key to striking the right balance in terms of the degrees of support and challenge you apply, rests on your understanding of the individuals that you lead. The first person you need to understand better is you.

What are the reasons you are tending to lead in the way that you do? It is possible you are too supportive because you think that is the most effective way to get the best from people or you are concerned that if you are too demanding that you will have to face conflict from people in your team. It could be that your experience of other leaders throughout your career has been of domineering, highly directive types and you have assumed that is how you need to be. Whatever the rationale for you leading as you do, understanding yourself as a leader is almost always the first port of call.

For what it’s worth: As an observation of work with hundreds of senior leaders, the balance, if any, tends to lean more frequently towards insufficiently challenging.

In tandem with greater levels of self-awareness, the level of understanding you have for each member of your ‘team’ will impact the level of challenge and support you can apply effectively. Deep knowledge that appreciates both the individual, whilst being really mindful of their current state, works best. For example, take Mike who is generally robust and has demonstrated high levels of resilience to your challenges of his performance in the past but who is currently struggling with the recent death of his father. Mike may well require additional support from you (Note: he may or may not need less challenge!) Or take Mariana, historically quite a meek woman in your experience, she has just successfully led a major proposal with senior players in her project team: She may well benefit from some increased challenge to build on the current momentum she has (Note: She may or may not need ongoing high levels of support from you.)

Increasing challenge

Based on highly individualised knowledge of the members of your team, here are a number of example factors that will increase how much challenge you are applying:

– Increase the complexity of a given task you want resolved
– Reduce the time-scales required
– Improve the quality of output required
– Deepen levels of detail expected
– Raise the status of the audience of any output for a task

Increasing support

Where you need to increase support you can work towards the opposites of the list above. You could also seek to spend more time understanding the individual human being that works ‘for’ you, deepening the relationship. You can also provide support by getting more involved yourself but there is a danger in that approach, which I have written about often. I would avoid that unless it is *in extremis* because it can lead to you getting too involved in the operational side of your work.

Be flexible

So, in order to get the very best out of those in your team, you need to be aware of the support you are supplying and the challenge your are applying at all times. People (often your “go-to” people) may need you to reduce the challenge after extended periods of high demand, similarly, those who have been cut some slack, may now need you to increase the heat but don’t make such changes on the hoof discuss it with each individual to check that your assessment of them is correct before you change gears.

Dr Glenn P Wallis is a leadership consultant who helps organisations improve key performance results through developing highly effective leaders. If you would like Glenn to help you develop your leadership bench, contact him here. Thank you.

Stretch don’t snap

StretchHigh performers like to be stretched. Indeed they will push themselves, if you as their leader are not providing sufficient opportunity for them to learn, aim high and ultimately hit it out of the ball-park. There are several areas to be mindful of with these driven types however and it is to those ‘Red Flags’ that this post will now turn.


If, as a leader, you fail to provide frequent chances for high performers to engage deeply in their work and to be challenged by it on an almost daily basis, they will get bored. That’s not a possibility, it’s a given. Where we are asked to work within our comfort-zone all the time, disengagement will naturally follow as sure as Q2 follows Q1. High performers live to learn and contribute in a way that has meaning for them. Sure, some may do it for reasons of ego or the accompanying reward but in my experience of working with hundreds of these high performers, most seem to do it for the reward that comes from the achievement itself, rather than just some extraneous recognition.


As a senior leader, when you look around your team and know that there is someone whom you trust deeply to deliver excellent work under often quite tight deadlines, the likelihood is that they become your ‘go-to’ person. Often. Usually, too often. Due to the fact that these high performers want the stretch and love the challenge, they are often not the best at saying ‘no’ to the extra workload you put their way. Before they (and you) know it, they can be overly relied upon and in deep danger of burn-out. That is the worst of outcomes for them and for you.

Lead differently
  1. Challenges for leaders when leading this kind of high performer are several, including your own ego and self-confidence, which may lead to you squashing the opportunities for this person in fear of the fact that they might out-shine you. My advice? Make your aim to be out-shone by members of your team. Regularly. Your ability to develop such key people is an important indicator of what a great leader you are, not the opposite.
  2. Rather than over-use the superstars, provide a greater stretch for those in your team who are not at that level yet. Ensure that these ‘nearly-theres’ are pushed and challenged, so that they can add more value to the work of your team. There is more capacity and potential in these people that is being left on the table, than there is from you and your current high performer, both of who (Hint! Hint!) are working very close to their maximum most of the time.
  3. Recognise that you and those in your team, work best under conditions of stretch. Whilst you or the context, may mean you mis-judge that from time to time, remember that moderate challenge helps focus the effort and makes sustainable high performance a much likelier outcome.

Dr Glenn P Wallis runs a boutique leadership consultancy, where he and his team help organisations perform better through developing higher quality senior leaders. If you want to discuss how you can raise the strength of your leadership bench then you can contact Glenn here.

How organisations can produce more with less (and avoid burnout!)

abracadabra-484969_1920As organisations continue to get leaner, there is an oft-heard call to ‘do more with less.’ Such an objective is possible to achieve through increasingly efficient systems and processes; investing in the latest hardware and will soon include hiring your first robot employee that can work 24-7-365.


This post acknowledges that whilst many of the changes listed above are important in the drive for greater efficiency it is also clear that all of these changes, and organisation performance more generally, rely centrally on the performance of human beings. Encouraging people to do even more can be a recipe for increased absence due to stress, high turnover rates as people exit your organisation in the search for a better ‘work-life balance’ and a general sense of employee dis-engagement: Not great outcomes for increased productivity.

So, how can you encourage higher employee engagement and output, as you continue to slim down the workforce, whilst also protecting the health and well-being of those same treasured assets?

Simple. But not easy.

3 Steps

Here are three key steps to ensuring you can ‘do more with less’ whilst simultaneously avoiding burning out your employees.

Ensure people work at the right level

Far too many organisations that I visit, seem to have a challenge with people working at the right level for their role. This is especially true of those in leadership positions. Still keen on rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in, too many leaders are spending insufficient time leading and too much time doing. This is not a new phenomenon and yet, still far too common.

The system that measures your leadership population (you have one of those, right?) should recognise and reward leaders for leading well and seek to develop those leaders who are not doing so sufficiently.

Recognise your leaders for:

  1. Leading the development of team talent
  2. Reinforcing values and behaviours of the organisation
  3. Innovating in ways that move the organisation/function forward and serve customers better
  4. Whole function/team results
  5. Adhere to/strengthen governance in an observable way
Don’t give ownership

You can’t give ownership, so don’t even try. What I mean is that you can’t give ownership to someone who doesn’t want to take it. Therefore, the best you can to hope for is to set an environment where the levels of accountability for performance are:

  1. Clear
  2. Clearly and regularly communicated
  3. Measured, reviewed and discussed regularly

Leaders who can create an atmosphere where employees know and understand with crystal clarity the deliverables of their role (the ‘what’) tend to produce much higher levels of performance, especially when there is a culture of accountability for said results. A product of such an approach is that employees start to discover the ‘how’ of achievement for themselves: Now that starts to look much more like a team where levels of ownership are high.

How can leaders start to make the transition to increased ownership? Adopt a performance coaching style to your leadership skill set.

Prepare employees for the change

If your employees have been working at a certain level – i.e. well below where they should be – it will be a significant shift when leaders start actually to lead effectively and not getting stuck-in to BAU. Employees can feel really unsettled when organisations make such a change of style leadership. The result can be that employees become somewhat frozen as they try to work out the change of expectation. Productivity can decrease rather that start to fly. So, it is really important to share and prepare staff for changes.

One thing to be careful of at this stage is how you manage the communication to staff. Get this wrong and you’ll be met with rolling eyes and much long sighing, as employees perceive the changes as a way of squeezing even more out of an already exhausted workforce (by their current standards.) Focus on the nature of work i.e. more stretching, that will tap into people’s strengths and interests. Ensure people are also aware that their performance will be more carefully measured and should they need it, more develop will be available for supporting improvements. Then ensure that as a leader, leading at the right level, you follow-through on these commitments through regular one-to-one meetings, mentoring and performance coaching. Simple but not easy.

Dr Glenn Wallis is a leadership consultant that helps organisations develop outstanding leadership in order to improve organisational performance. When you want to develop the effectiveness of leaders and leadership in your organisation, Glenn would love to discuss your needs with you, just contact him here.

This is what great companies do to ensure strong governance

GovernanceIt is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness …     (to paraphrase Charles Dickens.)

With the opening of trade opportunities globally through the touch of a button, the potential of cost reduction through the increasing role of AI, the long-term restructure of pension requirements and a wider workforce that are as well-educated as any in our history, it could be said that in many ways business has never had it so good. On the flip-side, the pace, complexity and ambiguous nature of the environment within which businesses have to work is as challenging as almost any in the history of organised work. Add in the uncertainty over Brexit, the US and terrorism and it is clear we face real challenges.

Wisdom and Foolishness

But let’s focus here on the wisdom and foolishness parts of Dickens’ opening lines. A litany of organisational disasters, capped off with the economic meltdown of 2008, should have provoked some wisdom around how organisations might want to consider their role in society more fully. “Should have” being the operative phrase there. I’m not referring to initiatives such as CSR. No, I want you to consider objectively your response to the idea of thoroughly planned and robustly executed governance. How do you, as a senior leader, ensure that the team or organisation you lead, remains acutely aware of its responsibility to guard against itself?

Notice that last sentence: I took some time to craft it.

You see for me and many of the outstanding leaders I have the pleasure of working with, governance is not the preserve of you local sector regulators such as the FCA, PRA, CQC or OFGEM. That focuses more on compliance. Compliance is a really  important part of your governance considerations of course but it isn’t the whole. Regulatory compliance is ‘done unto you’. Governance is the standards of accountability that you set for yourselves as an organisation. Get it right and you can sleep easy at night assured that, at some point further down the line, skeletons will not come tumbling out of the cupboard. Get it wrong, or worse still, pretend it will look after itself and you can look forward to less sleep than you need to function effectively.

Culture change

Building a sustainable approach to high quality governance requires a clarity that is achieved through systemic and behavioural changes. Great organisations ensure that they have  developed systems to monitor, reward and discourage certain behaviours. Checks and balances need to be in place to raise red flags early. Staff need to understand why governance is so important and how they are expected to support it as a key strategic strand. Leaders ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear for everyone in their team and that each person understands their accountabilities in terms to the outputs they produce and the level of performance expected of them consistently. All of these moving parts aggregate up to an organisational culture that respects the importance of governance.

One counter-intuitive benefit of a highly structured, highly visible, sustained approach to governance is that it is incredibly liberating. Knowing where you stand, helps individuals feel less uncertain. It reduces the fire-fighting required by leaders, to resolve issues that often should never have arisen in the first place. Having clarity about what is ok and what is not ok (not in some dictatorial way) offers everyone the opportunity to flex and innovate within clearly understood boundaries. Robust governance is the foundation for high performance over the long-term. 

Glenn Wallis is a leadership and organisational culture expert who helps organisations blend the hard stuff of systems with the harder stuff of people, to create highly successful teams and organisations that succeed both here and now and in the long-term. If you would like to chat about your requirements, please contact Glenn here.

No one owns the definition of leadership


When you arrive at that point in your career when you get a dawning realisation that you are a “senior leader” an odd thing can happen. There is a moment that many leaders reach and share with me, where they find they are struggling to define leadership for themselves. They are surrounded by Executive peers and Board members who are already well-established and who are leading in a way that at least appears comfortable and confident. These ‘new’ senior leaders find themselves further away from their comfort zones and wrestling to find a way of operating where they can feel comfortable and satisfy what is required from them in their new elevated position.

The result is that many such leaders, in an attempt to avoid some degree of imposter syndrome, take one or more of the following approaches:
1. Engage a leadership mentor
2. Try to copy those already in senior positions
3. Sign up for an Executive education programme at a Business School
4. Read lots of books on leadership

Thing is, these aren’t the best place to start the process of defining leadership for yourself. Let’s look at each briefly before exploring where you’ll definitely want to start the journey of becoming an outstanding senior leader.


What a great resource leadership mentors can be. Insightful in providing new leaders with both short-cuts and red-flags that help save time (vital) and avoid major screw-ups (even more vital!). Providing a “this is how I did it” approach, can be a life-saver for new Executive leaders. Mentors can also offer a sense of not being alone and having a critical friend in moments of real need.

Copy-cat leadership

I have written often that leaders are never not role modelling. Your team members, Boss and peers are always watching you, even sub-consciously. So, leaders are always being observed and judged, but by definition, they are also often being the observer of other leaders. This can result in the very common “I’d never do it like that” awareness, when leaders see something that they would not condone doing if the roles were reversed. Whilst this deficit approach to learning-by-watching is common, leaders watching other leaders in order to learn some positives seems less prevalent but is still a good way for new leaders to learn how to lead.

Executive Education

Exec education can work incredibly well when there is evidence-based input that is highly applicable to the real world in which Executives work. Learning that is designed to ensure that leadership development happens through undertaking real work, ensures that leaders can see how to apply what they have learned, back in the work-place. Rolling out keynote speakers with a view/experience to share can also be useful. Another great advantage of attending such Exec development is the networking with other professionals that may prove helpful over a life-time of leadership.

Reading Leadership Material

I love to read the latest leadership book. I absorb key thoughts from a wide range of books over the course of a year. Assimilating diverse ideas and cherry-picking concepts that resonate for me, helps me keep developing my own leadership approach in an ongoing way. The challenge with many leaders in relation to reading leadership ideas, is they’ll pursue one idea until the next shiny idea comes along. The sound-track goes a bit like this: “Oooh Authentic Leadership … I love that … What’s this? Integrated Leadership … Very cool and soooo me!! … YES! … Values-based leadership … I’m on it!” etc etc etc. Well-intentioned learning can end up looking a bit desperate and feel, for those you lead, to be pretty inconsistent. That inconsistency prompts uncertainty and that uncertaintly negatively impacts your effectiveness as a leader.

So where to start?

Start by acknowledging that only you will do leadership the way you are going to do it. Your version of senior leadership will never have been witnessed before and will never be seen again, in exactly the way you are going to do it. Recognise that learning from others – be they mentors, peers, instructors or authors – is helpful but never the answer on its own.

“No-one owns the definition of senior leadership but what is critical for you is that you have a definition of it for you.”

Working on developing your version of leadership is always time well spent.

– What sort of leader you want to be
– Your view of how and where you can add most value
– What values you hold dear and won’t compromise

These are all activities that will guide how you behave as a senior leader. You will have some areas of flexibility and others where you will stand fast. You will understand the current context and how your leadership will work here but also have deep roots that will guide how you want to lead, irrespective of context.

Working this out for yourself does several things, including speeds up decision-making, reduces anxiety and increases self-confidence. Not bad results for a relatively little bit of proactive thinking!

If you need help defining your version of senior or executive leadership for yourself, Glenn Wallis has a proven track-record of working with successfully with leaders just like you. You can contact him here when you are sure you are ready to get serious about leadership.

Are males or females better executive leaders? (2)


In the first part of this mini-series we posed at a philosophical question: are men or women better Executive Leaders? We established that it is possible to measure the effectiveness of leaders using a number of approaches and that whilst there were similarities in how the genders would perform there were also some key differences. This post looks more closely at how leaders lead in practice and where we might see differences that could be significant in theoretical battle of the leadership sexes.

To draw some conclusions here I’m going to share my reflections of nearly 20years of working with senior male and female leaders.

Leading People

Having identified that females (generally) have higher scores in measures of empathy, you might consider that they would lead other people better. I think empathy is a key skill and potentially a significant difference between the genders but its not enough on its own. There is so much to leading other human beings effectively that, in my experience, both genders are capable of doing so really well. Indeed male executives who possess high empathy and EQ are some of the very best leaders I have met.

I think a really interesting dynamic for you to reflect on, if you are a senior leader, is do you lead the different genders differently?  I have seen many men who are great at leading other men but not so good at leading women and vice versa. One might suggest that higher EQ would enable you to lead both genders equally well and in theory it should. The unknown factor here is the willingness of those you lead to be led by you. Again higher EQ would enable you, with patience, to find different ways to skin that particular cat. If you lack either patience or the inter-personal skills to tackle that situation you are less likely to succeed. Male senior leaders can often get dismissive in such situations quite quickly. Female leaders can- sometimes to their/their teams detriment –  stick in there too long, in the belief that they can ‘turn’ someone around.

Leading An Organisation

What is an organisation if not a collection of people? Well, there is also the critical element of organisational culture. This is partly shaped by the people but it is also the result of the systems and processes that have been built in to produce the outcomes, behaviours and working environment that we might describe as the organisation’s culture.

Let me at this point ask you a question: What do the following have in common: Enron, BP, Barings Bank, RBS, Lehman Brothers and Volkswagen?

At the time of the associated scandals and disasters of these companies, they had a male CEO. A flawed argument maybe – there are not that many female CEOs – but it is interesting to note that the organisational cultures and leadership flaws, happened on the watch of male leaders.

Easy to throw stones, so let’s move on to a supplementary question: Would a female CEO have allowed such toxic cultures to grow on her watch? Possibly – think HP, Patricia Dunn and the spying scandal. Possibly not.

Whilst it is clear that both genders are able to create positive or negative organisational cultures, in my experience I have witnessed that the best female senior leaders are particularly aware of their role as a corporate citizen. They understand and make manifest very obviously, their role as standard bearers of the culture. Male senior leaders do too of course – but I have witnessed several who operate as if the rules don’t apply to them. They expect everyone else to toe the line but fail to reinforce the culture themselves on anything like a consistent basis. At least, not as consistently as their female counterparts. A case of female compliance? Maybe. But perhaps it takes being willing to flex on your own views and wants, to be an excellent role model of organisational culture.

Sore Made (Judo term for end of contest)

So in conclusion who would make a more effective executive if we were able to find our hypothetically evenly matched leaders?

The answer of course is that it is a draw.

There are brilliant male and female leaders like you. There are also terrible leaders of both genders. The secret here is that you will benefit from observing other leaders – regardless of gender – who do things well, that you are not so strong at and learn from them. Get yourself some objective help to measure where you are starting from and track the progress you are making.

Organisations would do well to create more space to facilitate the recognition and promotion of more female executives, as they offer so much that can help balance environments that are still largely male dominated. Diversity in your leadership cohort, in its many guises, is vital to ensure representation of a range of views and to nuance the organisation’s culture more subtly.

It’s not a contest; it’s certainly not a fight. The objective of great leadership is to help others perform at their very best, drawing on the strengths that they bring to the table. Go lead brilliantly.

Glenn Wallis helps senior leaders in organisations get even better at what they do. If you want to be a leader of character and to lead outstandingly, then you can contact Glenn here. 

Photo: Thanks to Ozzy Delany

Are males or females better executive leaders? (1)

martial-arts-picWhen I was a Judo International, representing GB, in a time long before my grey hair appeared and the lower back pain kicked in, I would often join my peers discussing a philosophical question. Now, if you had been privy to the cohort of judoka that I rubbed along with back in the mid-1980s, you really wouldn’t have expected any of us to engage in philosophical discussion but the same scenario was presented and discussed ad nauseum. 

The question we argued over was this: If you had a highly experienced and skilled (in throws/holds) Judoka and put them in a contest against an equally experienced and skilled (in punches/kicks) Karateka, which of these would win in a contest with rules that allowed both styles to be used?

There are far too many errors in the question, let alone the underlying assumptions, to start to unpick it here, nevertheless, it was a working topic of much debate.

And that got me to thinking …

If you had a highly experienced and skilled male executive leader and you found a way to compare them to an equally experienced and skilled female executive leader counterpart, which of these would be considered more effective in their leadership role?

I have a view. But more of that later.

Let’s for starters accept that there are lots of flaws to the question – some philosophical (e.g. What is leadership? … YAWN! What is experience? … MORE interesting!) and some are practical (e.g. How would you ever find two leaders with exactly the same experience? Surely they would be doing the same job in the same organisation … SMILE-inducing!). But if we can put those things aside, what would we need in order to make such a comparison and who would win? (Oh!! Indulge me for a minute, I get that you can’t win in this context – it’s just a bit of thought-provoking fun!)

The first part of this post will look at how you would benchmark these two mythical leaders – important as a starting point; vital if we are going to be able to decide ultimately who might be the more effective leader.

Point scoring on Revenue

Deciding who wins a judo contest is relatively simple: Fighters are awarded differentiated points for throws and holds against their opponent or they can be penalised for foul play. The most points or the least penalties (or a combination) produces our winner. So, measuring, albeit relatively subjective, is possible.

Measuring executive leaders is a fascinating task. When measuring the effectiveness of senior leadership, many will draw the line quite simply at the bottom – because that is where shareholders and key stakeholders will be looking first. Profit, after all, is king (or queen). The simplicity of such a measure is helpful and clear. Are there any reasons why achieving a healthy bottom line would be different between our fictitious male and female leaders? All things being equal, I think not (But things in the Executive Leadership space are not quite equal, as I’m sure you’ll recognise.)

The weakness of using only the financial measures to see how effective leaders are, is that their apparent success, can be helped hugely by the vagaries of the market place. We all know CEOs who head highly profitable organisations, thanks in large part to economic fluctuations. It’s not that economic success isn’t really important – of course it is – but leader effectiveness is not wholly represented by this measure. Points gained here by leaders, need to be put in the context of the wider business cycles.

Point Scoring for Style

Some Executive Leaders will have been ‘measured’ within an inch of their life with various forms of psychometric tests such as MBTI(r) Insights (r) and other such tools over their careers. My own bias and my own philosophical view of human beings, is wholly opposed to the use of such tools in my own practice, whilst simultaneously acknowledging their usefulness for some leaders. There are also other measurement tools, such as 360 profiling,  that ask the leader and others, to reflect on the leader’s strengths and capabilities, as they are displayed at a given point in time. This is usually done against a leadership framework. These tools work well, as they help identify that the leader is not in a fixed state but a starting point from which further development is possible. These tools usually provide pointers to where development efforts should be directed.

Some of these profiling tools throw up statistically significant differences between the genders. One such difference that springs to mind is the higher percentage of Empathy that females tend to possess. They are often really good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes. This difference could be important in relation to leadership effectiveness. Similarly, an important factor that positively impacts male leaders is that they tend to have a stronger view about their abilities as transformational leaders than comparable women leaders. The good news is that (generalisations aside for a moment) male leaders are able to develop their empathic abilities and female leaders can positively develop their views of their transformational leadership self-efficacy. I know. I’ve seen leaders in both scenarios make incredible and lasting changes.

Similar but different

So, in our mythical leadership contest, it is possible to measure both the starting point and a given end point of a leaders’ effectiveness. The skills they possess and the impact that they make can be measured both directly and indirectly. Whilst every leader is an individual regardless of gender, for our purposes, both male and female leaders are clearly capable of scoring well in both direct and indirect measures – just differently. Organisations would do well to create cultures and environments where both our leaders could maximise the strengths they have and also have space to develop the areas within which they are not so strong.

In the next part of this mini-series, we’ll look at how leaders operate and practise the art of leadership. We’ll get to see if we can discover any key differences that might help us find a winner in our own leadership contest of the genders.

Glenn Wallis develops outstanding leaders who help contribute to the long-term success of organisations. If you would like to discuss how he can do that for your organisation, please contact him here.