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Notes from Last Night: “How to Inspire a Team”

Gillian Picture

An intimate group joined British-Canadian leadership coach Gillian Davis on a bright Wednesday evening with a view to improving their leadership skills based on insights from Gillian’s new book First Time Leader. Escape the City’s very own Mark chaired the meeting and kept things moving along fluidly as the group explored the many facets of organisational leadership.

Having graduated from business school in Canada, Gillian quickly rose in the ranks of her family’s boutique recruitment firm to become the President in charge of eight experienced recruiters twice her age. Seeking a new challenge, she then transitioned into a large corporate, before most recently escaping the city and joining a new startup in the creative industries based out of Shoreditch.

Following introductions from around the room, with attendees ranging from students through to law firm executives, Gillian began her talk with the jaw-dropping statistic that 40% of newly elected CEOs fail within their first 18 months on the job. There are a variety of reasons for such leadership failure, but it became clear throughout the talk that the most important of these is the alignment of personal and team values with those of the organisation.

What Makes a Great Leader?

Gillian managed to demystify the complex world of effective leadership through the BRAVE framework she developed with co-author George Bradt. The framework decomposes leadership into five distinct components:

Behaviours: taking actions that have the biggest impact;

Relationships: using self-awareness to communicate and connect with others effectively;

Attitude: deciding on a clear strategy and posture to ensure team focus;

Values: working to align the internal values of employees and the values of the organisation – i.e. what matters and why;

Environment: setting the context for a clear area to play in.

Gillian took the audience through each of the above points step-by-step and explained their importance in the development of leadership skills through real life examples. For example, Lululemon (a large yoga equipment retailer) tackles the values component by getting teams to dream big, whilst AirBnB operates with an Attitude that is disruptive. The key here is that how you approach leadership is unique to the characteristics your own firm, team and personality.

How to Motivate Unhappy People

The rest of the talk focussed on helping members of the audience understand their own leadership problems. One of the most interesting points raised was how to motivate a team that consists of unhappy people who are simply coasting in their current positions.

With unhappy situations detailed by both a London arts manager and two law firm executives, Gillian stressed the importance of gaining a deep understanding of each individual team member, their professional likes and dislikes, and how their job can be moulded to match their personal values.

It was made clear that whilst many leadership experts propose their own leadership techniques as magic solutions to all organisation problems, in reality there is no silver bullet that will work for every member of every team.

Co-Leadership

The focus then turned to that of co-leadership – an area of increasing interest given the current trend away from the well-trodden corporate path and towards founding startups (see here). Many of these startups begin with two or more cofounders, and so naturally there lies a fundamental question: who is going to be in charge?

Gillian recommends that founders draw clear lines in the sand to make obvious who is responsible for what functions and therefore avoid confusion for members of the team.

Gillian then went on to discuss the most thought-provoking topic of the evening as posed by a member of the audience: how to tell when your team is motivated.

Whilst most of the audience could articulate why they felt the colleagues under their leadership were not motivated, when it came to understanding the opposite explanations were much more problematic. It was concluded that if people had their values aligned, were producing higher quality work, and were more enthusiastic about work, then they were motivated – but also that keeping a team motivated is an on-going, fluid dynamic that needs constant adjustment to keep equilibrium.

How Best to Structure Team Meetings

Before concluding, the audience together with Gillian and Mark helped to produce ideas around how best to structure team meetings to avoid losing energy. From meetings conducted standing up (to keep things succinct) to banning tea and biscuits (in order to stop people dawdling), there were a variety of suggestions bandied about.

One of the most effective and easy to implement was to turn every update meeting into a strategy meeting, giving every member of the team a chance to contribute directly to the future performance of the project and leave each meeting with a renewed sense of direction.

Top 3 Traits Characterising Good and Bad Leaders

Gillian closed with her top three traits of good and bad leaders.

Bad leaders often have an ego (elevating themselves above others), do what their own managers do (without questioning whether it is the most effective approach), and are scared to delegate.

On the other hand, good leaders invest in self-awareness (which helps them understand not only themselves but other people), are aware of everyone above/below/equal to them in the organisational structure, and have an intimate understanding of their own and the organisation’s value.

All of the above illustrates just how complicated leadership can be, but with the correct application of frameworks and ideas as proposed by Gillian, it is easier to become an effective leader than ever before.

If there is one thing to take away from this enlightening session, it is that understanding both your own and your colleague’s values are the foundational building blocks of becoming a great leader. Without this, you’re only making the job harder for yourself.


This post was written by Sharief Abdel-Hadi.


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