I had the privilege of participating in the University of Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Program in the UK in June. The discussions were led by well-established experts and critical thinkers drawn from Oxford’s various colleges as well as private industry. Our class included three dozen C-level executives from many business sectors and areas of the world. I was the only US representative – which made my leadership, management and world views unique to say the least.
This was easily the most thought-provoking, and most enjoyable, learning experience in my many years of education. Thought you might enjoy a few of the takeaways.
We began with a discussion of leadership, its role and purpose within forward-thinking organizations. Our findings, drawn from the group’s comments, debates and exercises, is that “Leadership is about building new capacity for learning,” and that “Good leaders must be able to learn, unlearn and relearn on a continual basis.” We defined several traits common to all leaders to include: intelligence, emotional stability, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Various Oxford faculty presented their unpublished research on the subject and solicited feedback from the group. The emphasis was on the fact that group thinking does not always make the right decisions. The group is valuable when it relies on the individual’s thinking. Every individual’s participation is important.
It is not possible within this forum to provide much more than a few other valued takeaways:
- The more you know, the fewer answers you have.
- Embracing risk is not the same as taking risk.
- Trust is the essential element of any team.
- A leader’s aim is to delegate and train until he/she is no longer required.
- Worry about what you can control today.
- People remember recognition.
- The vision is diluted with each delegation.
- A leader makes the decision based on the best information, takes action and accepts the consequences.
- How people talk to each other absolutely determines how well the organization will function.
- Most people form trust based on face-to-face interaction (visual cues).
- There is no perfect strategy. There are only strategies that are good enough to get where we need to be.
- Avoid financial myopia remembering that strategy is knowing where we’re going, leadership is running to get there, and finance is the valued tool of measuring both.
- Imagination is the short cut to a person’s heart.
So what’s my leadership role at Finance Fund? I see myself as the chancellor of change, the curator of the creative, a malcontent of mediocrity and a consummate connector. Alliteration aside, I work alongside our senior executive team and staff to achieve short-term goals that add up to excellent long-term performance. It’s not always about following the script. It’s about moving toward impact within the limits of the strategy. The contribution of leadership is to incent excellence in performance of the whole team.
Our brand exists primarily in people’s heads so we know the importance of communicating our business strategy through good storytelling. We also know the importance of connecting strategy to measurable performance standards. We come to work every day to fulfill our promise to connect low-income communities with public and private sources of capital to improve the quality of life for people.
It’s good to be back at Finance Fund where theory meets practice and we can learn, unlearn and relearn every day.