There appears a growing trend on LinkedIn where more and more experts look to share articles that highlight ‘the 1 thing that the greatest leaders of our time all have in common‘/ ‘the top 5 attributes that you need to be the next Jack Welch, Nelson Mandela, Sir Alex Ferguson, David Nott‘ — see Desert Island Discs, June 2016 for one of the most truly inspirational leaders of our time explain his story with humility and grace.
All are worthy of reading but barely scratch the surface as to why leadership can be so impactful – talking about a cocktail of visionary idealists, who create a purpose, galvanize their teams and do so with a human touch.
Over the last 20 years, I have been lucky enough to work for some extraordinary people — some exceptional managers who consistently deliver for the shareholder year after year beating expectations against all odds; others who frankly shouldn’t have been let anywhere near other human beings in a work environment given their lack of self-awareness/ emotional intelligence and a handful of outstanding leaders. The best of whom was someone I worked for at Barclays Bank for about 18-months whilst in their mortgage business.
This person had a number of attributes which on their own wouldn’t create a stand-out leader but when put together delivered a multiplier effect where the value of the whole was greater than the sum of their parts:-
- Incredible knowledge of his Business. A person comfortable with numbers who didn’t remember the key performance indicators for the sake of remembering them but knew them as he felt responsible for every single pound, shilling & pence spent/ created (as if it were his own money).
- A person who used to constantly listen to customers to find out what they really thought, their experiences and then acted upon the feedback using first-hand insight to develop new products & services.
- Deep understanding as to how to make things work. A person who felt comfortable talking to IT and creating new solutions at pace with minimal Capital Expenditure as he would be with sharing the plans with Sales and galvanizing a workforce around a set of ambitious numbers.
- A visionary who set ridiculously hard to achieve metrics but with a plan underneath to execute. At the time, the mortgage business was going through exceptionally tough times and yet his mantra was ‘aim for the stars and if you hit the moon then you will have done well and far better than if you had of aimed for the moon alone‘. Under his leadership, the results bucked one of the worst recessions in living memory, the falling Consumer Confidence Index as well as the market in general.
- Managing upwards without a hint of political spin. His weekly notes to the main Board were factual, not laced with any back-biting of other individuals or excuses and gave the Executive the confidence that the person in charge knew what they were doing, had a clear plan of attack and could be trusted to deliver a significant proportion of the Retail Bank’s profits.
- A human being – someone who remembered the name of your girlfriend/ boyfriend/ husband or wife; someone who cared what was happening in your life and who would also step in and clear any boulders in the way should other areas of the Business be playing a different game to the one they had signed up to deliver against. Someone who also said thank you and had the lightest of personal touches.
- A person who lived the shadow of the leader philosophy – leaving the office pretty much on time every night; always taking his holidays in full and not being on email during this time; who was in control and gave confidence to his team who felt they were empowered to make decisions without constantly having to check back.
- Someone who didn’t do things for effect (because the latest management book tells you to behave in a certain way) but acted naturally.
I could go on. What I love the most is that there isn’t one person I have met since leaving Barclays Bank that has had a single bad word to say about him. A person who was subsequently promoted to be Deputy CEO of the Retail Bank and then got his dream job — in 2014, he became CEO of the Coventry Building Society.
I have tried to take elements from every single person I have worked for (the good, the bad and the ugly) and used that to help define what my leadership looks like – I have a long way to go – but if any of the attributes that Mark Parsons has in natural abundance have rubbed off on me then I can but be very thankful. A mentor on the Marketing Academy Fellowship Programme — whosoever gets Mark as their mentor will have done exceptionally well!
Thank you Mark.