How can you build a better leadership team?

In the constantly changing global business context, organisations need to build agile leadership teams that can adapt to any new situation and keep their business moving forward. OnBoard recently partnered with Business Leader to bring a panel event that brought together leadership experts from a range of business sectors to shed light on how to build boards that are fit for the future.

The panel included:

  • Gary Ashworth, Non-Executive Director and Business Coach
  • Jordan Brompton, Co-founder and CMO, myenergi
  • Adarsh Mantravadi, General Counsel and Director of Business Development, OnBoard
  • Chris Paton, Managing Director, Quirk Solutions
  • Dr. Saima Rana, CEO/Principal of GEMS World Academy – Dubai and Chief Education Ambassador for the Varkey Foundation

The panel discussed how leadership has evolved — comparing the tendency in the past for leaders to appear omniscient with today’s leaders who are more focused on being authentic.
Gary Ashworth said that both employees and customers now insist on an organisation being authentic and having purpose. Jordan Brompton talked about how leading with authenticity helps build trust with employees and customers. “Leading with passion and wearing your heart on your sleeve makes for a vulnerable leadership style that I’ve always found to be quite powerful,” she said.

Dr. Saima Rana said that effective leaders need to have a strong, well-articulated vision, coupled with the ability to bring other people with them. To that end, they need to be credible, empathetic and principled. “You have to be able to see the big picture as a leader,” she said, adding: “I also think good leaders are those who are able to delegate when delegation is appropriate.”

Chris Paton agreed, saying that, for a long time, the tendency has been to have a command-and-control style of leadership, with the senior leader making all the decisions. “But when things get very complex, volatile and fast-moving, you need to step back and allow individual teams to make decisions because that’s the only way to keep up with the situation.”

Chris pointed out that delegating in this way creates a more empowered culture — a team of teams — which helps an organisation to become more nimble, adapt faster to changing situations and get the best out of its people. “This approach also means that the leadership team has the space to do more strategic work and look ahead to what’s coming next,” he said.

Adarsh Mantravadi added that the experience of the pandemic has likely forced organisations to prioritise agile decision-making more than ever before. “I think a lot of leadership teams have realised that their business needs to be adaptable and responsive to changing circumstances,” he said. “This approach can be helped by the investments you make in technology and other areas to help your team move your organisation forward.”

HOW IMPORTANT IS BOARD COMPOSITION AND DIVERSITY?

The panel agreed that the composition of the board is critical and pointed out the advantages of having a diverse board — an aspiration that many organisations are working hard to deliver on. “To make a board more effective, you need to ensure you have the right people around the table, and that you’re efficient in leveraging the time and expertise of your directors,” said Adarsh. He commented that technologies like board management software can help organisations reach a broader range of potential directors and board members.

Gary expressed the view that diversity has come a long way from the days when it was little more than a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, as companies start to realise that “having diversity of thought in your board makes you attached to your customers better, gives you further insight, and helps you outpace your competitors.”

Further, Gary said that hiring non-executive directors is an opportunity to diversify the board by bringing in people who are prepared to be assertive and to challenge established thoughts and views. Jordan agreed, saying that as a co-founder and CMO, she needs to “be aware of what my strengths and weaknesses are, and where I need to plug those gaps.”

HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS DEVELOP THEIR LEADERS?

The panel went on to discuss how organisations coach and build leaders. Saima pointed out that when a new leader is (inevitably) doing a role they’ve never done before, “you have to allow them to develop and learn, and have that space to grow and be able to do different things in a different context.”

Jordan brought the topic of building leadership back to board diversity, describing having people on the board with a variety of experiences as “the best development that I’ve ever had as a business person. You can pay coaches and go on courses, but when you’re in the thick of it, working with people that have had different experiences from all over business has been the best for me.”

Pursuing the theme of leadership development, Chris talked about organisational leadership. Traditionally, leadership training has been provided to individuals as they move up through an organisation, but his organisation takes a different tack: “We tend to focus much more on organisational leadership,” he said. “For us, teaching and educating leadership right across the whole organisation is really important — focusing on behaviours, decision-making, and information flows.”

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