Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Leadership Lessons Close to Home

It is fascinating to see articles examining the leadership lessons of the Chilean Mining Disaster (or triumph) so soon after its successful conclusion and I notice that there’s an hour devoted to it on Channel 4 tomorrow night. Along with the film of the events, the book deals and (the probable) appearance on Oprah in due course, there is certainly something about it that draws us to it. It was after all the triumph of human endeavour over disaster. But to suggest that we can learn from the leadership of President Pinera and shift leader Luis Urzua before the whole story has emerged is I think going a little too far. As the different accounts emerge, then we will be able to look at how people reacted under pressure, how different agencies co-operated together, and how everyone seems to have been united by a common purpose, but I think there’s a much more relevant example for us closer to home.

Last year, Jaguar announced that it was to shut one of its three plants in the UK, with the corresponding loss of skills and experience to say nothing of the knock on effect in local communities. But the incoming management agreed to listen to other views (lesson number 1) and this month agreed not only to reverse their earlier decision but also to centre Jaguar R&D on the UK. Additionally they have awarded a 5% pay deal to the workforce - how many of us would jump at such an award in the current economic climate? A remarkable turn around! The lessons are there for us all, and are particularly applicable to the Public Sector after the CSR announcement last week.

So how was it achieved? Well first and foremost the incoming management team agreed to listen to other ideas. They didn’t shut themselves away, come up with the solution and then impose it. Secondly, they engaged the workforce and asked what they could do in terms of cost savings, different working practice and greater efficiency. Thirdly, the management, workforce, unions and local MPs all worked collaboratively – with a common purpose in mind. What I find remarkable was that the Union was UNITE – the same Union that is involved in the long running and acrimonious dispute with BA. It just shows that once sides are drawn, it becomes inceasingly difficult to find common ground.

The lesson for Public Sector leaders is clear. Faced with some really difficult decisions, don’t shut yourself away and forget “The Buck Stops Here” mentality. Present the situation to your employees and ask for ideas. Don’t approach it like a disaster, but look at it as an opportunity to tap into all the potential ideas that abound in your organisation. Provide an opportunity and you’ll never cease to be surprised by those closest to the action.

Simon Hollington is a Director of Leading Edge Personal Development Ltd (, a company formed to release potential and improve performance. He can be contacted at or 07811 332280

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