Michele McGrath speaks at Inspire London 2016: The Changing Nature of Leadership

Leadership can be learnt. True leaders are courageously curious. Leaders are made, not born.

These are just a few snippets gleaned from last week’s Inspire London 2016: The Changing Nature of Leadership, held at Google HQ, with 200+ delegates from organisations such as Diageo, Facebook, Tesco, Capgemini and the BBC. Michele McGrath, Brand Learning’s Group Managing Director, was part of the impressive Leadership Panel speaking to the topic “Is leadership really changing?”

Her message? The core concept and essence of leadership remains valid - leaders must lead and inspire their teams - but the intrinsic nature of leadership is being disrupted. With ever-more demanding customers and employees, and the evolving digital landscape, it’s not just about inspiring your team any more but about involving and energising them.

Despite speakers and panellists spanning generations from X to Z, the emerging themes were surprisingly consistent, in particular to 3 questions:

What is leadership today?

Leadership is about being brave and courageous. Good leadership is influence, used well, to enable others to flourish. It’s about understanding and meeting the passions, powers and motivations of your teams as well as yourself. In fact, Debbie Klein, CEO of Engine Europe & Asia, catchily explained that leadership is about both “finding your own super-power and prioritising it” as well as “lighting a fire inside people rather than under them.”

All speakers were extremely passionate about their work. They emphasised the need to identify this passion to find purpose. You must love what you do and, according to Sarah Wood, Co-founder and co-CEO, Unruly, “harness the emotional contagion” that results. A powerful question for delegates personally, from mentor and coach David McQueen, was “what is the next adventure you want to go on and how will your work complement this adventure?”

How has leadership changed?

Today’s leadership is no longer about power hierarchies, rigid processes and control and command but about the empowerment of others. It’s about adaptability, fluidity, co-ownership and the wisdom to set direction but then the freedom to let go. It’s fast, agile, flexible and involves everyone in decision making without constraint from consensus.

Michele McGrath, Group Managing Director, Brand Learning told the conference that true leaders are courageously curious. They tune in to new ways of doing things, constantly questioning and always open. They recognise that curiosity dies when you assume you know all the answers. Accordingly, they embrace feedback, and acknowledge what they do not know, aren’t afraid to show their vulnerability, and readily ask for help (Sherilyn Shackell, Founder of the Marketing Academy). 

Inherent in this is collaboration. Successful leaders know that it’s not about them - it’s all about their people. They invite and recognise the value their people bring (nurturing a feedback culture via, for example, creating digital communities) and even letting their people lead them.

How do you lead in crisis or simply when having a bad day?

Follow Mark Twain’s advice: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”. This holds true for when you have bad days i.e. when you don’t bring the best version of yourself to work. As long as you communicate to colleagues, explaining or signalling (by donning seldom worn headphones or closing your usually open door) they won’t take it personally and you’ll be seen as more human and gain their support. But wear it lightly and always look to manage your energy and that of your team.

Adopt radical transparency - in good times and bad, listening loud, asking insightful questions and communicating well. In times of crisis you may need to take on a temporarily more commanding or controlling style but frame this behaviour with honesty and integrity and you’ll be well received and can easily revert back to your usual, more empowering style when crisis passes.

Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with consistency - ensure your ‘say’ and ‘do’ are the same. Implicit in both is self-awareness. Kevin House, Change Specialist, The Art of Being Brilliant, told us that brilliant leaders, lead themselves brilliantly - mindful of both their positive features and flaws but flexing to their features. Dr Seuss captured it well: “Be who you are, say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

At Brand Learning, we believe that true leaders drive business growth by inspiring, engaging and enabling people throughout the organisation to create better value for customers. For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities to drive growth, please get in touch. You may also be interested in our Growth Drivers Study that uncovers the hallmarks of Growth Driver organisations and what they do in practice to drive growth.

Take a look at our customer-centred leadership framework: Insight, Purpose, Partnerships and Performance. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.