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Outsource magazine: thought-leadership and outsourcing strategy | July 25, 2017

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It’s all Greek to me…

It’s all Greek to me…
David Wyer

Have you ever looked around and wondered why some people rise quickly through an organisation? Perhaps you’re one of them? What’s your secret? What’s their secret? How do they view the world around them? What kind of leaders are they? What kind of leader are you?

A long time ago I had my leadership style appraised and the feedback was that I “led quietly from the back”. Naturally I took this as faint praise at best. But it was explained to me that I wasn’t a total failure in the leadership stakes, there’s a time and place for a variety of leadership styles.  I would need to learn to move to the front and sometimes I wouldn’t be sure, sometimes I wouldn’t know best, sometimes I’d be wrong. I’d have to learn that none of those things should diminish me as a leader.

Now being much (much) older I find it interesting to observe how different people lead and the impact it has on those around them. There are those that pull together strong teams, they act as a coach, they aren’t concerned that people in their team know more than they do. There are others who are experts, they have huge experience and knowledge and the team look to them to direct and command.

Perhaps one could be described as intrinsic and the other extrinsic – one powered by their own strengths, the other by the strengths of their team?

It appears to me that in many organisations senior management emerge from the more intrinsic type of leader, they appear as a ‘safe pair of hands’: someone who overcomes issues, unlocks problems with an unshakeable sense of self belief. Often they are quick to make decisions, someone who ‘gets things done’, directive, authoritative. In an environment where perhaps risk management is spoken about but not practiced so much, it’s possible that we could find ourselves surrounded by issues needing a raft of quick tactical solutions – and I suppose I’m thinking that in this type of environment the intrinsic leader will be highly effective. I also wonder if they would be able to point to a list of battles that they had (single-handed) won – very compelling.

Contrast this with the leader who acts extrinsically, someone who sees strength in creating stronger teams; in fact this may be their definition of leadership? An extrinsic leader may not always appear to know the answer or instantly recognise the right direction to take. If this type of leader operates in a tactical environment then perhaps they will appear flawed, hesitant, lacking ‘grip’. Their approach may better lend itself to the practice of risk management – in fact that may be the only way they can effectively lead, by anticipating and shaping.

Well what’s all this got to do with outsourcing…? It seems to me that so much is being written about leadership in commercial management, it’s obviously an important topic and something I believe is needed to overcome the next generation of challenges. But it might be that it isn’t even that simple, leadership is too broad. I think we absolutely need leaders, but will we find that appointing a certain type of leader will inevitably lead to a certain type of commercial relationship? I’m not suggesting that there’s necessarily a right or a wrong but suppliers pick account execs very carefully depending on the objectives for the account. From a client perspective perhaps we should think carefully about our objectives for the supplier and appoint appropriately, even being prepared to swap approaches if necessary.

For thousands of years philosophers have considered differences in people, leadership, motivation and I think it’s probably a discussion that continues to this day. I wonder if it’s possible to adapt to the situation, if it’s possible to modify and adjust personal preferences according to whatever is best suited – or when push comes to shove will we always revert to type? Of course I have my own preferences and my perspective is definitely shaped by them but I can see that there’s a need for a much more deliberate approach to managing outsource deals (along with many other things).

There’s a current and growing school of thought that suggests that as the pace and complexity of life grows the only way we will navigate our way through it is to collaborate more effectively; we simply won’t have time to repair the collateral damage often caused by an adversarial approach.
Thinking about it a bit more: does the fact that the pace of change is ever-increasing mean that strategic thinking is out of date?

Does it mean that our strategic approach should be to become more tactical?

Perhaps our strategy should be how to cope with ambiguity and change. Of course this naturally flows into contracts and their structures and the practice of managing them.

I wonder if my leadership assessor all that time ago was very far-sighted. Will the commercial (business) leaders of the near future need to have the ability to move from leading from the front to the middle, the back and back again? Will they need to accept they don’t know best but still act with pace/grip?

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