Where are the World Class Leaders?

Ian Walsh

Where are the World Class Leaders?

News & Updates Advice & insights

Ian has more than three decades of experience transforming businesses through leadership development. Here he shares his thoughts with about the skills required to create a cohesive, passionate and successful team, and highlights some of the issues holding New Zealand back from improving its productivity.

In my experience, no change initiative can succeed without strong leadership. Great leaders articulate a compelling vision and provide a road map to define the way forward.

They create coalitions of key people aligned with the same purpose (think JFK – where are we going?… Moon. When by?… End of the decade).

They role model the behaviours necessary for positive outcomes. This is very Mahatma Gandhi – become the change you envision. When things are bad, they take responsibility. When things are good, they praise their team.

They encourage everyone to participate and contribute without blame or fear. In doing so, they create a learning culture that sustains well beyond their tenure. Selfless, long-term thinking.

During the 1990’s I had the privilege of working with Kimberley Clark in the USA. In the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins,

Kimberley Clark was one of only eleven Fortune 500 companies to have achieved year on year growth for over ten years. During Darwin E. Smith’s twenty-year tenure through to the early 1990’s, the stock price increased from $5 to nearly $40.

He created a compelling vision to move from paper mills into commodity paper, with brands such as Kleenex and Huggies, and to take on Scott Paper (who they eventually purchased) and Procter & Gamble.

Through personal will, drive and commitment, Smith galvanised the organisation into a cohesive and passionate team, determined to achieve wins, and ultimately super-please and reward the shareholders and stakeholders.

He left a legacy of future leaders, and upon retirement is quoted as saying he never stopped trying to be qualified for his job. Smith is not well known, but within the company, he is deeply respected, even revered for the leadership and humility he demonstrated.

Compare this with New Zealand organisations. How many have developed leadership pathways, programs, to nurture and grow this essential capability? How many measure this and intervene as needed, recognising we are in a talent war?

If our larger organisations are struggling, what chance have the 80% of our economy we call SME’s?

I have unfortunately also worked with a number of companies whose leaders think a visionary strategy is a cost cutting exercise designed to buy time or meet short-term bonus objectives. I witnessed first-hand, the massive loss of human capital, with the best people leaving first due to market demand.

Boards are often slow to realise or act. In fact, sometimes, these companies go through this process multiple times in an endless cycle of despair. The damage can be terminal.

How can reducing cost by short-term one-off interventions be a strategic competitive advantage? Surely your competitors can do the same thing? I understand it can be expedient and perhaps a short-term need, but it is not a strategy.

Developing better practices and systems to improve productivity and become cost competitive is a strategy, however it requires a long-term commitment to culture change and ongoing leadership which many of the ‘lessor leaders’ aren’t willing to commit to lead.

According to research, the biggest controllable factor (something we can influence and do something about) holding back New Zealand’s productivity, is the quality of our leaders.

The latest IMD benchmarks for competitiveness have our productivity being the worst for business efficiency with a number of drivers for this; the key ones being the availability of competent senior managers, lack of skilled labour, management education and science graduates. This has been the case for years. So, what are we doing about it?

How do we create the future leaders that New Zealand so desperately needs, now more than ever? Surely it is time to create joint business, government and academia ventures to grow and nurture leadership capability with the purpose of equipping our young people to steer our country in the right direction.

The tools and techniques are known, but we are short of good mentors, a structured roadmap, and the process needed to achieve this outcome.

It won't happen by chance - let's talk.

By Ian Walsh, Managing Director - Intent Group NZ

If you'd like to meet and chat about how we can help you and your organisations on it's journey to World Class then get in touch with Ian on 027 534 9258 / email iwalsh@intentgroup.co.nz or local contact Antony Gibson on 021 161 9705

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