During the many rain breaks of the recent Ashes series in England, Sky Sports filled time by taking us back to the 1980s and ’90s. It was a tour of nostalgia, of different haircuts, stadiums and TV production. It was a reminder of how much has changed in our lives in the last 30 years.
But when it comes to the workplace, how much has really changed? Things might look a bit different, and of course, technology has had a profound impact on the pace of work and communication. We have more flexibility, more diversity, and in many cases a fairer working environment.
But the basic management model which has existed for more than 100 years has largely remained unchanged. There are leaders and there are followers. Leaders set the strategy, make the big decisions and inspire people to complete tasks, reinforced in their actions and behaviours by well-established mantras like “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want to be done because he wants to do it.”
For 21 years during my time with the Investors in People organisation in the UK (15 as CEO of Investors in People Scotland), we reached more than 25,000 organisations – more than any other business advice or consultancy organisation. What I saw was a pattern of repeated behaviour with many organisations making earnest and well-intended investments in leadership development, with results that fell short of expectations.
“The global spend on leadership development is in the order of $30bn. But if you look at the trends in productivity and engagement, there’s been very little shift.”
Businesses almost always want the same thing: to create more engaged and motivated teams, which in turn will bring about productivity gains. However, it became obvious that repeating the same top-down approach means change is short-lived. It’s a bandage, a pill to help ease the pain without tackling the root cause.
Leadership conference. Inspiring speech. Rinse. Repeat.
I loved my time with Investors in People – we reached thousands of organisations providing external review and accreditation of their culture and commitment to training. We also developed and launched the Investors in Young People programme for the Scottish Government which resulted in 500 organisations receiving accreditation for their commitment to recruiting and developing young people.
And then I had my lightbulb moment.
I was introduced to a US Navy Submarine Captain, David Marquet, who had done some extraordinary things, changing the “basket case of the fleet” into the flagship, without giving an order, and in doing so creating a new generation of leaders. I couldn’t foresee how much his work would change my life.
Fortune Magazine proclaimed that Turn The Ship Around is, “the best how-to manual anywhere for managers on delegating, training, and driving flawless execution.” It’s just been recognised as #3 in the Best Company Culture Books of All Time (beating out leadership gurus such as Lencioni, Collins and Sinek). USA Today had already voted it as one of the 12 best business books of all time. I wish I’d found it sooner, but we don’t know what we don’t know.
David Marquet’s take on leadership was so different from what I had experienced that I reached out to him, initially forming his first UK partnership with Investors in People Scotland (by then rebranded as Re: markable).
Then I really did jump ship, moving to join David’s team to lead the global consultancy arm of the business. I’ve now presented and facilitated in the UK, USA, China, Switzerland, Kenya, France, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and many others. Now I’m bringing the in-depth IBL Bootcamp to Australia, co-facilitated with Keogh.