The Secret Source of Outstanding Leadership - highlights

The 19th November saw our latest 'Secret Source' event, this time the 'Secret Source of Outstanding Leadership'.

Hosted by Andy Williamson and Jeff Wolfin, over 40 people from over 25 different businesses gathered in central London. They ranged from global corporates such as GE, Vodafone, RSA Insurance and British Airways through to SME’s, new business start-ups and charities. They all came to listen to, discuss and share different perspectives on a defining skill of the 21st century leader – the ability to exercise good judgement. This was defined as ‘Taking conscious decisions and actions that are not unduly or undesirably influenced by our conditioning’.

After a brief introduction from the genial (OK, bald) MC for the day Jeff, ex Premier League, Champions League, UEFA and World Cup referee Graham Poll shared his unique insights into making good judgements and decisions under the most intense pressure. The parallels to the challenges facing the modern day leader were clear. Decision making time frames are shortening, visibility of decisions can be global at the touch of a button and the pressure to ‘get it right’ is huge. Graham’s insights into this were at the same time; enlightening, fascinating and humorous as he shared tales from some of the highest profile football games of modern times where he had to ‘lead’ 22 multimillionaires and manage the additional influences of managers, press and millions of fans. Two insights that were particularly illuminating were:

  • It is impossible to free one’s mind of all opinions, biases, judgements, concerns, thoughts on what people might think etc. when making decisions and indeed it would not be desirable to do so. The key is to be consciously aware of them, use them where appropriate – for example, in setting a game strategy - and to not be undesirably influenced by them.      
  • The ability to bounce back after getting major decisions wrong. Decisions have to be made and of course not every decision will be correct, but the ability to reflect on and learn from these situations was clearly something that was critically important for him in being able to put them behind him, regain self belief and ‘get back in the saddle’.          

We then moved onto the question “Is it possible to assess and develop this capability in people?”. Andy and Jeff shared practical examples from the field where they have worked with organisations who have done just this. The bottom line is that it requires a different developmental approach but yes it is possible and it has been done to great effect.

Andy shared how Cisco have added layers of sophistication into their online 360 degree feedback process to assess the ability of senior sales leaders to exercise judgement. He also explained how GE run highly personalised, information rich telephone based 360's and how this incorporates emotional intelligence and cognitive thinking into the assessment of future top talent.  

Jeff then shared examples of how some forward thinking organisations have approached the task of developing the ability to exercise good judgement. These focused on three main components:  

  • Using a series of powerful, highly experiential processes to increase self-awareness of the mental ‘interference’ that gets in the way of good judgement.
  • Being able to create a ‘PAUSE’ between stimulus and response that allows the brain to engage and take undesirable emotion out of any responses.
  • Ensuring leaders possess the appropriate levels of skill to balance sometimes ‘competing’ forces – for example; in a particular situation whether to focus more on strategy or execution, on being the fixer or the coach, being single minded or more consensual.    

The morning then concluded with a fascinating insight into the subject of conscious leadership provided by Erika Uffindell and Sun Tui from the Global Centre for Conscious Leadership. It was very interesting to hear about the 3 different types of decision making: Instinctive, Values based and Intuitive and how this relates to the 3 sources of 'intelligence' we have at our disposal when making decisions – our head, our heart and our gut. We learned how important and valuable it is to use all 3 and that decision making often takes place purely in the head which means we might not be operating at full capacity. The audience were then led through a couple of very practical exercises to help bring this to life using real life decisions.

We were then treated to a fantastic lunch (thank you to the team at One Alfred Place!) which led nicely into the afternoon session. This saw a change in emphasis where the group were split into 3 each attending a separate breakout session.

  • Jeff’s group played a ‘game’ that reveals some of our unconscious conditioning and biases around if, how and when we demonstrate trust in people – it was very interesting and great fun!
  • Andy’s group focused on building the strategic capability to analyse huge amounts of data swiftly and effectively when making decisions – a critical skill in the modern world.
  • Duncan and Sue led a discussion on some critical behaviours that can be deployed highly effectively to create a ‘PAUSE’ before acting.

Proceedings were then wrapped up and everyone went on their way. Some to Brussels, some to Frankfurt, some to Copenhagen, some to Ireland and some even as far as North London! The feedback has been very positive and a good day had by all.

I’d like to leave you with a comment made by Gary Hamel at the recent 2014 Drucker Forum in Vienna. He said – and I paraphrase - that in this modern world where there is so much data, such short decision timeframes and so much democratisation of technology, it is unrealistic to expect all key decisions to be concentrated at the door of the very few at the very top of organisations. It is therefore absolutely critical that expertise in exercising good judgement and making decisions exists across the entire organisation. Then and only then will terms such as greater empowerment and decentralised decision making actually turn into reality.