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Lush for life: Poetry and modern day leadership

Alexis Thompson

Mark Constantine, maverick millionaire and co-founder of cosmetics company Lush, chats to Alexis Thompson about success, failure and what poetry can teach leaders of today

UK plc has something to learn from the forthcoming general election. We have never seen so many party leaders lay out their visions for what they wish to create, en masse. Great! What our politicians have got wrong is that the vision has to be constant, not just to win votes to secure their place in Parliament.

Politics aside, leadership within business still remains largely misunderstood. Too many believe successful leadership can be gained from a training course or following seven steps of a management guru. Wrong. If managers truly ‘got it’, it might put people like me out of business, but the upside would be a highly productive and engaged workforce.

So what’s changed in leadership?

The duvet day you want to miss

With nearly 40 per cent of workers planning to leave their jobs in 2015 (according to the Institute of Leadership & Management) competition for managers is at an all time high. Part of the problem is that many workplaces haven’t presented current and incoming staff with a vision of what they’re trying to achieve: A sense of purpose. Employees need to feel “we’re coming into work to do something special.” Although a global brand, Amazon sums it up quite simply. Their vision is to be the ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’ (versus an online ordering company) – which would you feel more motivated to work, or buy from? This statement helps staff connect emotionally to the business. Businesses small and large should opt for a vision that’s meaningful and believable. The rules dictate they must be simple and emotive. Visions on a grander scale help, but managers can instil their own vision for their teams, on a smaller scale.

Leadership lessons from the toilet

Imagine your job was the management of toilets at Disneyland. Whether in a C-suite managerial role at the company HQ, or the toilet manager, the leadership task remains the same. Are you making team members feel as important as they are? Are you helping your team do the job to the best of their abilities? Most importantly, have they bought into the vision? How can toilet cleaners at Disney possibly form part of the company’s vision? Crucially so, considering Disney’s vision is “to make people happy”. Imagine a family day out after all the expense of getting there and they have a horror experience in the toilet. Imagine if the toilets were immaculate and that rounded off the day of all-out fun for a family, and left a positive imprint in their memories. The lesson here is the demonstration of importance of the job to staff on all levels. 

When it’s OK to dream on the job

So how can managers create their own vision for their teams? It starts with fantasising about the future. Go to the future, look at the world 15 years from now, notice how it looks and feels.  Engage your team in this vision process and find out what they think so that you have an informed version of the future from the team that is going to help to create that reality. Dream about every aspect. What’s your department like? Think about it in detail. How does it feel when you and your team come to work? How do they interact? How would you describe your team meetings, and what value will you create?

Steps for developing the vision:

Don’t corrupt the dream: Making money comes as a secondary. It’s crucial there are emotional connections – notice the feelings of joy especially if this reality was met. That excitement is the juice that fuels the change.

Map out the plan: What needs to be different about this process is that there has to be a number of different ways of reaching the goal. If one method didn’t work it needs to have room to try another. This eliminates the ‘right or wrong’ aspect, and leaves greater room for problem solving towards the goal.

Identify your supporters: Be careful of “we did this before and it didn’t work” or “don’t you think we will run into a problem at this point?” You can’t win everyone over, however focus on the team members who constructively suggest how to create the dream you’ve presented. They will be your future crew.

Don’t give up:  It’s very easy to. There’s always a good excuse why you shouldn’t implement change: “The market’s not ready,” or “the staff weren’t up for it”. If you see the possibility of change and have laid out the vision you owe it to the team not to give up. This is what makes the difference between a good manager and a great leader.

As we move further away from the age of the transactional worker, leadership is not just something for C-suite managers but rather affects everyone in the company. Those who take the lessons of personal responsibility, and true engagement will guide their businesses to new heights of sustainable success.

Success lies in the connection between talent and a clear-cut vision. Unlike many of our politicians using a vision to bring about a short-term result, let it be ingrained in our daily lives giving new meaning to the workplace as part of our lives.

Tim Taylor is the co-founder of London-based leadership consultancy, Making Great Leaders, which works with the managers of managers within FTSE 500 companies and SMEs around the UK and internationally. 

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