One Man’s Leadership Journey

The traits I believe good leaders must possess are people skills, ability to implement, strategic focus and commitment to the ongoing improvement of technical and knowledge skills.

Work Smart! The work force is not intrinsically fair. Ability alone will not guarantee a successful career.

CoachStation: LeadI have had the pleasure of working with Gary Leonard at Toyota Finance Australia (TFA) for the past 2 years. Coincidentally my contracted tenure with TFA finishes later in November, as does Gary’s 28 years with the company.

As I have spent time with and got to know Gary I realise that his success as a senior leader has not been driven by circumstance, but rather who he is and how he operates as a person and as a leader. The statements in the first few sentences of this blog highlight two of the many elements of his beliefs regarding leadership and business culture.

I felt it would be appropriate and do justice to Gary’s career to interview him and provide a few pearls of wisdom as Gary has seen his roles, philosophies, successes and challenges. They may well provide value in your own journey.

    What does leadership mean to you?

Walk into any bookshop and one of the most voluminous areas on any subject will be about ‘Leadership’. Many well researched and respected experts have written insightfully about this topic

I don’t think there is any silver bullet I can add that hasn’t been covered off before. However, the thing I would emphasise is the importance of integrity and honesty which are the building blocks on which all other competencies can be built on.

A leader must at all times be prepared to walk the talk. A leader must be a role model at all times for his staff, during and outside normal working hours. My favourite saying related to leadership or people is:

Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination (John Seaman Garns)

I particularly like this quote as it is sits well with my view on the frequently asked question “are leaders born or can leadership be learnt?”

Clearly my view after many years in the workforce is that effective leadership can be both taught and learnt.

    What is your background and work history?

Prior to working with Toyota Finance Australia (TFA) my career could be broadly divided into finance and non- finance. This included a short time in the Commonwealth Public Service (Department of Supply) and two years as a cadet Journalist with the Daily Mirror in Sydney.

My experience in finance came from 8 years at Esanda and stints with AFS (an off shoot of Hambro, an English Merchant Bank) and Mercantile Credit, at that time owned by National Mutual.

I joined TFS in an operational role as NSW Regional Manager in 1986. TFS undertook a major restructure in 1994 and I was asked to take on the head office role of Personnel Manager, despite not having any prior HR experience!! In 2008 I was promoted to General Manager Business Services; a very varied portfolio which has at different times included Human Resources , Strategy , Planning , Compliance, IT, Credit , Retail Contact Centre , Wholesale Centre and Collections.

    Is there any advice you would give to newer leaders starting out in their roles today?

Work Smart! The work force is not intrinsically fair. Ability alone will not guarantee a successful career. So what does working smart really mean?

I am a great believer in people realising their full potential. I have worked for a very large company where one feels like you can get lost in the system. I have often stated to my staff that one of the big advantages of working for a smaller company is that good performance can be more readily identified. The downside is that poor performance can also be more readily identified!

Working smarter to me is closely aligned to fulfilling and maximising one’s potential. Opportunities might include:

  • Volunteering for that challenging project to demonstrate your capabilities.
  • Taking the opportunity when presenting to the Executive to ensure you are well rehearsed and professional
  • Being proactive in your career and taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves
  • Keeping current in your chosen discipline, keeping abreast of technology, dressing in appropriate and professional attire, thoroughly preparing for meetings etc.
  • Maintaining a suitable work-life balance. I have not necessarily achieved this myself but it is important to have outside interests and opportunity to focus time on family, friends and non-work related activities.

Let me give you a personal example. Through research I integrated some of the life experiences of a personal hero of mind, the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, with universal leadership traits that can be applied equally well in the work force, inclusive of some poetic license you would expect from a former journalist! I prepared this into a PowerPoint and presented it initially to some of my staff.

I have since been asked to present this piece of work to a number of other internal teams including the TFS Executive leaders. I have also presented to external organisations at their request.

I put this example forward as not only a way to have hopefully added value to the Organisation but at the same time as an opportunity to raise my personal profile within the organisation i.e. work smart.

     What one leadership development tip would you give to others?

I would try to access regular 360 feedback from superiors, peers and direct reports. I know this type of feedback can be quite confronting but it can also provide tremendous development opportunities if viewed constructively. I would also add that developing strength in working with people is critical, including taking joy in the development and success of others. After all, it is the people that make the difference to an organisation.

    What aspect of your career do you look back on with the most pride?

The aspect of my career I am most proud of called for me to deploy many of the skills I had developed over the years to ensure it was a successful project.

Two of Toyota Financial Services core products, Fleet and our extended warranty product, Toyota Extra Care, had originally been administered by our sister Company Toyota Motor Corporation Australia (TMCA). Strategically it was decided these products were better suited to be managed by Toyota Finance.

To support the transfer of this business from TMCA to TFS we had to relocate approximately 50 people with specialist skills from Taren Point to Milsons Point in Sydney. Logistically most staff lived within 10 kilometres of the Taren Point office and had access to subsidised motor vehicles and ample free parking on site.

We were now asking most of these staff to travel approximately 35 kilometres each way by public transport to get to work. Not to mention that the two companies enjoyed very different cultures and the staff to be relocated worked in a heavily unionised environment.

The successful relocation of our team was essential if we were to have the necessary IP to run the two business’s seamlessly and service the needs of their respective customer bases after the relocation. These staff had the option of taking attractive redundancy packages in lieu of agreeing to such transfers.

Overall, this offered quite a challenge!

In no way did I try to downplay the challenges such a significant relocation would present to an individual. What I did however was to present to them the positives such as enhanced career opportunities which would come from working for a larger company in the rapidly expanding finance industry

Supported by a strong change management and communications plan and most importantly being available at all times to discuss any issue with our team, however small or insignificant they may heave appeared at first glance. The majority of our employees made the decision to relocate.

One of my most treasured mementos from my years at Toyota was when the team members impacted by the relocation presented me with a beautiful watch in recognition of my efforts to support them during this period of transition.

    Do you think that leadership principles and practice have changed much over your career?

I do not believe the fundamentals of leadership have really changed to any great degree over the span of my career. This is possibly best reflected in one of my favourite quotes by William E. Holler.

Just as the real basics of human nature do not change from one generation to another, so the real basics of human leadership do not change from one leader to another – from one field to the next – but remain always and everywhere the same.

The traits I believe good leaders must possess are people skills, ability to implement, strategic focus and commitment to the ongoing improvement of technical and knowledge skills.

Many so called leaders possess some of these skills but outstanding leaders possess all of these skills in equal measure. My experience is that the number of managers who possess every one of these skills is relatively few. I believe that lacking in any of these competencies has an impact on the ability to successfully deliver optimal outcomes.

Additionally, when it comes to integrity and values, they are a core requirement for any leader. Learning the ‘tricks’ of leadership is not a sustainable attitude and people see through this over time. Ensuring that integrity is how you operate and who you are not just what you know or do is critical to leadership success.

As mentioned earlier, the fact that people make the key difference in and for organisations cannot be underestimated. The advent and higher profile of leadership tools and self-development concepts such as Emotional Intelligence and its influence on leadership is a positive aspect that has changed over the years.

     So, after a very successful career and your retirement being a matter of weeks away, what does the future hold for you, Gary?

My wife organised a very enjoyable 60th birthday celebration for me during which I took the opportunity to acknowledge her patience in living with a ‘workaholic‘.

In many ways with my working life soon to be effectively behind me what I am looking forward to is having the time to pursue a number of interests that I have neglected over the years and at the same time learning some completely new skills – hopefully inclusive of spending more time with my wife!

As I approach retirement I have taken the opportunity to speak to a number of friends who have already retired and some professionals who specialise in this field.

The common theme from all these people is that every day you get out of bed you must have a plan as to what you want to accomplish that day. I am genuinely excited at this prospect and will be disappointed if I don’t have to continue to keep a diary to keep track of the many things I still want to achieve in life!

Thank you and all the best for your retirement, Gary. I hope it brings you and your family all the rewards and joy you are looking for.

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Three Cornerstone Leadership Skills

There are many skills required to be a good leader. In my experience there are three core capabilities however, that when mastered, provide an outstanding platform for leadership success.

CoachStation: Leadership Development

These three skills are not only of great value to leading, but also to an extension/requirement of leadership which is the ability to build meaningful relationships with depth. Connecting with and the understanding of people is a key to earning the right to trust and be trusted; removing assumptions; accepting that differences between people is natural and when understood is a positive aspect of life; and increasing the opportunity to influence. Each of the skills detailed adds significant value to make these goals a reality.

Listening

The ability to truly listen forms a crucial element of any relationship. In my experience it remains the biggest single gap in capability and is not a strength across most people. Leaders who listen and take in the context and words of others have more chance to build a depth in relationships and purposeful direction, bringing others along on the journey. Listening impacts the level of respect people feel towards one another and taps into the core need to participate and be a ‘cog in the many cogs’ that make business run and life a success.

Associated skills such as paraphrasing; acknowledging; and body language are all important communication attributes, however listening has the most immediate impact both visually and practically. It is a difficult attribute to change or improve as it goes against the grain for most people. But it is not impossible and the power that comes from being a good and effective listener can be a game-changer for many of us in leadership positions.

Empathy

In my experience empathy is as much about acknowledging as anything else. I have worked within the leadership and customer experience areas for many years and it is amazing how customers and employees respond when empathy is provided at the appropriate time. It is just as impacting when the opportunity to show empathy is missed.

Empathy sits in the mid-range between apathy and sympathy. When practiced sufficiently so that empathy becomes a natural or unconscious part of how you think and operate, it can be a powerful tool in connecting with people. Empathy allows you to understand the emotional state of other people and build a connection though acknowledgment and understanding of alternative perspectives. The potency in this is enormous however is regularly a missed opportunity.

Questioning

The ability to ask the right questions at the right time is the single greatest skill I have been able to develop in myself and in helping other leaders develop.

How do you improve understanding? Ask!

This should not take the form of or feel like an interrogation. Developing the skills to know when is appropriate, what to ask and how many questions are relevant based on the person and situation will provide great clarity, purpose and direction. Again, this will also go some way to building a deeper and richer relationship with the person involved. We often feel the need to justify another’s position. When we seek solutions for a team member who has an issue that they want resolved or are unhappy with, we often try to resolve from our perspective, not theirs.

How can we answer a question that is not understood (or even asked)? It is neither our role nor right to speak on others behalf and we certainly don’t know as much about the issue or topic as the person involved. So don’t feel compelled to respond and justify what is not understood. Do question and paraphrase to understand and gain clarity.

None of these skills are a silver bullet that will resolve all relational and leadership issues. There is no doubt in my mind however, that by practicing and developing the ability to listen to what others are truly saying and meaning; ask the right questions to clarify and understand; and connect through relating to others via empathy actions and statements, you will become a better leader. In fact, these capabilities, when improved, will have a direct positive impact on all of your relationships…and who doesn’t want that?

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The Best Leaders Are Insatiable Learners

Harvard Business Review:

This blog from HBR really resonates with me. I particularly relate to the last paragraph: It takes a real sense of personal commitment, especially after you’ve arrived at a position of power and responsibility, to push yourself to grow and challenge conventional wisdom. Which is why two of the most important questions leaders face are as simple as they are profound: Are you learning, as an organization and as an individual, as fast as the world is changing? Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting? Remember, it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

Nearly a quarter century ago, at a gathering in Phoenix, Arizona, John W. Gardner delivered a speech that may be one of the most quietly influential speeches in the history of American business — a text that has been photocopied, passed along, underlined, and linked to by senior executives in some of the most important companies and organizations in the world. I wonder, though, how many of these leaders (and the business world more broadly) have truly embraced the lessons he shared that day.

Gardner, who died in 2002 at the age of 89, was a legendary public intellectual and civic reformer — a celebrated Stanford professor, an architect of the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson, founder of Common Cause and Independent Sector. His speech on November 10, 1990, was delivered to a meeting of McKinsey & Co., the consulting firm whose advice has shaped the fortunes of the world’s richest…

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Features vs. Functions of #Leadership

Steve Riddle:

Colleen makes an excellent series of points in her latest blog regarding the various aspects of leadership. The idea that 3 out of the 4 leadership levels relate to others is a great point and worth investigating.

Originally posted on Thinking is Hard Work:

There are four “levels” of leadership we see in most organizations:

  1. The leader – developing self, developing character, being self-aware
  2. Leadership of others
  3. Leadership of teams
  4. Leadership of organizations

Have you noticed something interesting about this list?  Only one of these four levels of leadership are about the leader. The leadership of others and of teams is about relationships. The leadership of organizations is about stewardship, about processes to ensure the long-term survival of the organization and about vision (and maybe a bit about leading others & teams). Yet most of the blog posts, discussions, research and thoughts about leadership are leader-centric – the traits, skills and behaviours (the “features”) of the leader.

I recently read a great article in the Ivey Business Journal about corporate governance. In it, Knud Jensen argues that we are too focused on the features of a board (who is on the board, how…

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Invest In Setting Up Your Leaders to Succeed

To succeed as a leader, significant support is required.

This starts before the opportunity to lead begins…or at least, it should.

CoachStation: Leadership Success

Setting up your leaders to thrive through a development program both prior to and during their tenure is key to the success of your leadership team and your business. Training in itself is one source of development, however must be supported in practice through a developmental culture, coaching and mentoring. Ongoing support ‘makes the learning real’ within the work environment, reinforcing the content and context provided during training.

How many of you support this development through an in-depth and formal induction process?

An induction is not simply an introduction to the business, its history and elements of purported culture. It should be a tailored set of tools that provide context, responsibilities, accountability and other relevant points that provide the leader with every opportunity to hit the ground running and flourish in the long-term. This should be the case no matter what level the leader is employed at. In a recent article Norah Breekveldt highlighted various points related to the investment required to ensure leaders succeed.

Businesses invest heavily in attracting and hiring the best executives the market has to offer. However, despite the best recruitment or search processes, success is by no means guaranteed and many new hires don’t make it – in fact around 40 percent of new hires derail in the first 18 months – that is, they are demoted, are fired, resigned or failed to be as successful as expected.

Can you imagine a business installing some new technology or investing in a piece of highly complex equipment and accepting a 40 percent failure rate? *

There are many reasons why a new hire fails in their role. Unfortunately, too often this is not the fault of them. Informal power bases, politicking, underestimating the challenges of the role, overestimating skills and capabilities, along with other influences are all elements that can derail an opportunity.

When leaders derail their problems can almost always be traced to complex chains of events that developed early in their appointment…Derailment emerges typically over a six to twelve month period as forces conspire against the leader and the impacts of misjudgements or poor decisions start to be realised. The consequences of these failures can be catastrophic for the individual and costly for the firm.

All new leaders require a proactive and supportive approach to their integration in order to succeed and excel. Leading firms recognise that investing in proactive support minimises the risk of outright failure, stems the potential loss of key staff and clients due to missteps that could have been avoided and ensures the new leader becomes productive and flourishes in the shortest possible time. *

The points raised above are logical and seem simple to apply. Yet, in practice few businesses truly succeed at maximising the opportunity for their new leaders, not to mention the existing leadership team.

To genuinely succeed in business, leaders must know their role, continuously develop their skills and be constantly supported to achieve the best they can as a leader, based on each individual. It is worth taking a moment to consider where your organisation succeeds or fails in this area. Take stock and make adjustment where required. The benefits will be felt by all!

 

Source:

Take Your Investment In New Executives One Step Further: Norah Breekveldt, Business First Magazine, July/August 2014 www.businessfirstmagazine.com.au

 

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Are You An Accountable Person…and Leader?

Over the past 12 months I have noticed a trend within my circles of influence about the importance of accountability. Particularly in reference to leadership.

As a result when asked earlier this year to contribute to the e.Mile People Development Magazine by owner, Christina Lattimer, I jumped at the chance to write an article about this topic. I recently wrote a separate, yet related blog on accountability however wanted to bring to attention the importance of accountability and where it is ‘falling down’ in some quarters. By the responses received to the blogs, it is definitely striking a chord with many.

In my 25 plus years of working as an employee, consultant and leadership coach there have been several themes that continue to recur when working with senior leaders, many linked to being an accountable leader.

Earlier in my career it was initially surprising to me how many senior leaders were genuinely stressed and deeply concerned about their capability to lead others, regularly questioning whether they have earned the right to lead. In some cases they were losing sleep and living unhealthy lifestyles due to the real or perceived pressure of their roles.

I now recognise that much of this angst and lack of self-belief has been developed over time based on habitual, intrinsic and external influences, both perceived and real. Excitingly, for the same reasons, these skills and attributes can be grown to turn the negative aspects into positives.

Read More here…Be Accountable To Be A Leader

 

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Leadership and Courage

Steve Riddle:

I recently wrote, “One of the key elements of accountability is the comfort to have the ‘right’ conversations. Being accountable is addressing all issues and providing feedback for positive behaviours also. This is not something that we pick and choose depending on our own levels of comfort or fear. You are either all in or you are out! Strong relationships with high trust allow us to have the right conversations. In all of our relationships, both inside and outside of the workplace, we earn the right to hold others accountable. A surface level conversation once every few months will never cut it. I believe there is no conversation that cannot be had – with the caveat that it is what happens in between the formal discussions that enables us to ‘go there’.”

Gwyn Teatro often writes blogs of substance and relevance, with her most recent revisited offering spot on in terms of the reality of organisational culture and the various challenges that exist in most businesses.

The real decision is whether you are the sort of leader who is willing to develop deep relationships, be accountable and be brave enough to challenge the norms, not because it is easy, but because to not do so does not sit comfortably with your own values and beliefs. I share this blog as another great example of Gwyn’s thoughts and the extension of my own.

Originally posted on You're Not the Boss of Me:

courageCourage has many faces. It doesn’t always show up complete with epaulets and a shiny sword yelling “Charge!!” In fact, I would suggest it more often demands a much subtler approach. Either way, courage is not something we can buy or fake. It lives in the heart of our character. And, it is something we hope to have enough of when we need it most.

Brave leaders go first and inspire others to find their own courage. They defy convention. They admit their mistakes, apologize and make amends when they are wrong. Brave leaders explore unknown territory in service of something greater than themselves. They deliver bad news with clarity, determination and compassion. And, they stay the course when the going gets tough

Brave leaders, too, frequently look in their personal, and organizational mirrors to find something in themselves or in the systems they create that works against their potential…

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