Browsing the web on news stories about the Northern Rock leadership I came across this snippet from the telegraph written at the end of last year about Adam Applegartth the then CEO.
"He had a habit of asking people who their top five fast bowlers were," said one observer. "And when they gave their opinion he would fire back that they were wrong and the real answer was X, Y and Z." Those who disagreed with Applegarth or questioned his decisions were brushed aside. A banker once questioned Adam on his business model," said one former adviser. "Applegarth retorted that he clearly didn't understand the model or the business. That banker was ever after a persona non grata."
OK so we might all snigger with hindsight given what we now know about Northern Rock, but the article made me think about some of the pitfall of success in leadership. Applegarth seems to have worked at Northern Rock for ever, working his way after university from the cashiers desk to the boardroom. Well done he, but along the way something happened. Somehow he forgot himself and didn't pay attention to his operating style - maybe even consumed by the arrogance of success. Who knows? Wouldn't it be great to interview him and find out? But it struck me that here is an example of the need to take a rain check from time to time in leadership and have either a good advisor or friend willing to be brutally honest with feedback on personal style and approach. What was happening in Northern Rock that didn't allow much earlier questioning of what was happening in the business? Was it that rapid success - between 1998 and 2006 the bank's assets grew fivefold, from £18bn to £101bn - prevented these kinds of questions?
High levels of self awareness much be a key attribute or characteristic of inspiring leadership. Really understanding the, perhaps, unitentional contribution a leader is making to a situation s/he would rather not have has to be part of their make up. Otherwise continue to blunder ahead regardless until . . . Experience too, is not always a guarantee of sustained performance. Experience, like learning, has to be applied. One can view the CEO's brag of having "30 years experience in this industry" in one of two ways. Either 30 years of cumulative learning and insight, or just one years experience repeated 30 times over.
It just made me think that sober reflection about the kind of climate and culture I as a leader might be creating is worth doing. I can't bemoan the lack of creativity and innovation in my organisation if I walk around stiffling ideas. I can't express dissatisfaction with the level of engagement and commitment of my workforce if I don't allow, experimentation, exploration and, yes, mistakes to be made. If I think that I am always right and can't explore a challenge to my thinking, then that behaviour will re-inforce all the kinds of non-inspired behaviours among other people that I want to change.
Self-awreness, humility and being authentic enough to say, I think I may have got this wrong, or there's another way of viewing the future that might be more beneficial or successful for all us, has to be at the core of inspirational leadership.
Now I'd better go and have that 360-degree fedback done on me . . .
by Jim Taggart
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