Fearon on Leadership

Richard Fearon picture


Richard Fearon, one of the CSIR’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, shares some powerful insights into the true meaning of leadership.



Personal integrity and influence

The first responsibility of a leader is to say ‘thank you’. The last is to define reality.

In between these two, the leader must become a servant of the people and the organisation that he or she serves. Artful leaders have a correct balance of these two qualities: the ability to define reality and the ability to include all the people.

Leaders owe people freedom. Freedom and space are necessary for people to develop, to innovate and to grow. Freedom is an enabling environment and is a quality that must be recognised and rewarded.

We need to give each other the space to grow; the freedom to be ourselves; and the freedom and space to exercise our diversity.

It is in this environment that ideas are born; where a lack of fear provides the openness, dignity, joy and inclusion that makes for great companies. It is in these qualities (rather than the financial performance) that great companies thrive. Look at Google, Facebook or Twitter – compare these companies with the sweat shops of China’s textile industry with absolute control, no freedom and widespread human misery and exploitation.

The next element (in stock-market parlance) is that the ‘bears’[1] who do assessments are obliged to examine momentum and how that momentum will be maintained.

Bears are right because it is the movement within the organisation that is so vital. It is a feeling among a group of people that their lives are intertwined with their work. Together, they move towards a recognisable and legitimate goal.

Momentum comes from a clear vision of what an organisation must be and how or what it must do to make that vision a reality.

Momentum requires leadership and leaders need to be effective in order to maintain or build that momentum. Leaders are not control freaks and can delegate. However, all leaders must deal with people personally to be effective. No ivory towers, limited hierarchy, no ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Respect people

This begins with an understanding of the diversity of the human qualities, talents or individual ‘gifts’ that they have. These attributes make us human and understanding these ‘gifts’ enables us to take crucial steps like simply trusting each other. If we have a common goal and a common bond, we should have a common trust.

Respect and trust enable all of us to think in new ways; they allow us to work with the strengths of others and not to focus on exposing their weaknesses at every opportunity.

Let’s accept that everyone has certain talents, abilities, qualities and ‘gifts’, but none of us has the same ‘gifts’ as the others around us. We are all different – so let’s embrace this fact with the respect, trust and dignity it deserves.

True participation and enlightened leadership allow these ‘gifts’ to be expressed in different ways; to be nurtured and encouraged to develop; and to make a contribution to a common goal.

Finally, there is one other element, which has a huge impact on success, and this is our attitude.

Here’s the question: “Would you rather work as part of an outstanding group or be part of a group of outstanding individuals?” How do you answer that?

A key aspect of this is communication because:

  • Communication liberates us so we can do our jobs better – as simple as that; and
  • Communication allows us to respond to the demands placed on us and to carry out our responsibilities as best we can.

Leaders use communication to bring freedom and growth to the people they lead in order to liberate them from the mind-boggling corporate structures that are so rigid. Good communication needs to be based on logic, compassion and sound reasoning.

As a culture within an organisation takes shape and becomes more complex, communication naturally and inevitably becomes more sophisticated, often less personal and even more crucial.

An increasingly large part of this growth relies on the role that communication plays in expanding organisational culture so that common values are passed on to new team members who find that the ‘old hands’ reaffirm those self-same values that allowed them to develop.

So, here are some questions I ask myself regularly:

  • Does what I do count?
  • Does what I do make a difference?
  • Why should I be here?
  • Can I be somebody here?
  • Can I own this place?
  • Does coming here add to the richness to my life?
  • Do I have the freedom to grow and develop?
  • Is there something I can learn here?
  • Would I bring my family to this place?
  • Is there anybody here I can trust?
  • Is this place open to influence or change?

I believe that it is essential to create an environment that encourages open communities by:

  • Welcoming all;
  • Being kind to the people within the community;
  • Allowing changes;
  • Encouraging human activity;
  • Forgiving mistakes;
  • Striving to move ever-closer to its full potential;
  • Providing for the needs we don’t perceive;
  • Being open to surprise and comfortable with conflict; and
  • Being flexible.

[1] In stock-market parlance, a ‘bear’ is someone that is generally pessimistic about the state of a market.

Featured (banner) image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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