Updated: Mar 20, 2019
The current generation of CEOs and executive managers are in a unique position to have a significant impact on Australia’s working environment. They stand at the helm of a change of guard between the Baby Boomers and the up-and-coming Millenials, in an era of massive disruption and as such are positioned to be more than a leader but leave a legacy.
With such significant change happening across multiple areas of business, including inter-generational shifts, addressing the culture of the organisation is where leaders can have the greatest impact for now and into the future.
One of the ways to do this is to focus on connecting with the people in your organisation: looking at them as people rather than employees.
Would you babysit for your team? The story of a great leader and his legacy.
Some years ago, I was working to balance the demands of an amazing opportunity, establishing the Asia Pacific head office of a global US FMCG brand, while caring for my 18-month-old son, in a city where I had no family support.
This one particular day, I had urgent meetings and deadlines to meet and my son was sick. My only option was to bring him to the office.
To say I was stressed about this was an understatement. My past experiences with other organisations had led me to believe that my son’s presence in the office would not be welcomed.
What happened next though was a true revelation in understanding and commitment from a kind and inspiring leader who valued the input of his team and, as a father himself, knew that working and raising a family required flexibility from everyone.
As I entered the office, the managing director came towards me. He took one look at me, laden with nappy bag, toys, snacks and a sick toddler and I guess my expression conveyed my fears about the day ahead.
He simply said: “It’s OK, come with me mate,” and lead my son by the hand, with the nappy bag over his shoulder, to his office. He told me that on that day, my work took priority and it was important that I could focus, so the team would help look after my son. I left them, the managing director and my son, on the floor of his office.
I’ve often reflected on that moment and the incredible difference it made to me and my ability to do my job. His understanding and support removed all my stress and ensured that I was able to deliver a great result for the business and of course for my son.
I had not encountered his approach to leadership before and it certainly is not the norm. What it created was a culture of understanding, support and flexibility where everyone was valued for their contributions with an understanding that we also have other priorities that need to be worked around at times.
Creating a workplace culture like this does not come from an isolated incident. What gained the trust and full commitment of the entire organisation was the daily interactions he had with all employees across the business.
Often, after a full day of meetings at our factory in regional NSW, he would excuse himself from dinner with other managers who were visiting the site, not to get an early night, but to go back to the factory to make sure he spent time with every employee who was working through the night in production or the warehouse.
The stories created from his times driving a forklift, working in production, chatting personably with team members, removing figurative and literal road blocks, and genuinely caring about his team became almost legendary.
What it created was a clear understanding of what was required to get the job done and what was considered a priority in the business – people.
The culture was a direct reflection of the language he used, his visibility in the business, his sense of fun that was intertwined with a push for great results, the standard he set by role modelling and addressing issues as they arose. It was a culture of high performers who valued relationships and were able to balance priorities and achieve results.
This man’s legacy lives on many years past his tenure. More than 15-years later many of his team are still in regular contact and when we catch up, we reflect on an amazing experience that shaped our own leadership capabilities and set a standard for the legacy we each aspire to leave in every organisation.
Working at an executive level, it is easy to become solely focused on outcomes and forget that they are only achieved through the people you work with, and that everyone has demands and responsibilities outside the workplace. It is not possible for anyone to have a mutually exclusive work and personal life.
As a leader to provide understanding, flexibility and and an environment that supports success in all areas of an employee’s life will create long lasting loyalty and deliver the business outcomes you need to achieve.
What will be the legacy of your leadership?