The words Spain and Crisis have been linked, in ever increasing waves, for the past five years. Much has been said about the financial, political and social angles of the crisis. But one has to focus and invest time to read about the leadership aspect of this crisis. I believe that a significant part of the crisis is the result of ineffective leadership, at many levels. Equally, I believe that most of the opportunities to solve the difficult issues, and restore confidence levels, are also linked to more effective leadership styles.
The international PR firm Ketchum has published an annual Leadership Communication monitor, in response to “…the global hunger for effective leadership – political, corporate or community based.” In the 2012 edition the study concluded that respondents from America desired more action and less rhetoric; those from Europe more honesty, and those from Asia a clear direction forward. A year after that study was published, the 2013 version indicates that the world continues to be hungry for effective leadership. Most notably, the respondents miss the ability of its leaders to communicate clearly, honestly, and in ways that engage people to understand and support tough decisions.
As a leadership effectiveness coach the report resonates with me. As much as there is an increasing concern about the political class in Spain, I want to focus on the business side of the equation. It’s been said that the agenda business leaders choose to support, at all levels, can determine most of the economic and employment recovery. After living here for almost thirteen years, I am still curious why the business leaders in this country tend to be extremely ‘discreet’ in voicing their ideas and solutions on a mainstream level. Where are the Richard Bransons, Marissa Mayers and Jack Welchs at local, regional and national business scenes?
I continuously engage business owners and senior managers in conversations to identify where their leadership can be more effective. As the Ketchum report suggests, there is a wide gap in the ability to communicate, motivate and inspire others to support a vision. Take the following examples, collected over a period of just a few weeks:
• A Senior VP of a large multinational firm, recently appointed, is continuously asking his local managers to be more commercially aggressive and attain profitability… or else! One such manager told me that he has explained, numerous times, that the company’s products are not adapted to his customer base, and that by focusing on a few cost reduction actions the unit could be profitable by year-end. Instead of listening and taking the input from the people closest to the market, the executive continues to push his agenda. The manager is then puzzled when he´s asked to invest a large amount of time to determine if a summer intern should be recruited (when the commercial activity is at its lowest).
• The CEO of another large business has decided to personally get involved in approving or rejecting individual expense reports, to show that cost control is a big priority in the company. However, he failed to listen and engage with some of his direct reports while attending a once a year major press event. While much planning and work went into this event, he missed creating an impactful message to the media and therefore, to a wide base of stakeholders including clients, suppliers, shareholders, etc.
• A senior Director, while only on the job for less than a year, decides to remove a direct report responsible for a very critical process and stakeholder relationships, because he wasn’t comfortable working with him. He had no succession plan for the position, at a time when the business needs those skills urgently, and admitted that he never took responsibility for setting the agenda, expectations and working style with his team soon after accepting the job.
Some common patterns in those examples, even accepting that one does not have a full picture and all the facts, are:
a) People not making a successful transition from being a technically competent manager, to a leader who understands that the job is about creating and developing the team, communicating, delegating daily work, and focusing on strategy and results.
b) Leaders who still operate from a perspective of being a ‘boss’, making all the decisions by themselves, displaying little or not ability to communicate on an individual or collective level to attain better performance as a team.
c) Individuals who, for no good reason, decide to solve a problem by creating an even larger one.
In spite of the crisis, Spain is recognized to have at least a few companies in the ‘Most Admired’ annual surveys. I’m sure there are excellent leaders who display all the competencies and skills required in these times, but it is still a mystery to me why there appears to be a cultural bias on being visible and open.
Coincidentally, these days, the ‘Business Council for Competitiveness’, a think-thank that includes seventeen senior leaders from the biggest Spanish companies, announced it would begin a comprehensive itinerary to show its support for Spain… outside of Spain! I guess they feel that their attendance to the regular business conferences and events in the country, are sufficient for now. It would be interesting to analyze if these behaviors are also displayed in the Small and Medium size businesses, which account for around 90% of the Spanish economic output and in terms of employment.
I welcome my readers to share their experiences and ideas on creating more effective leadership opportunities. If only for one reason: because if the long awaited recovery is indeed underway and around the corner, as some now suggest, how can we ensure that the next positive cycle will be sustained and not compromised by resorting to the same old ineffective leadership behaviors?