Quality of Island’s business leadership ‘pretty average’

All Island Media digital marketing manager Giorgina Lister, Law at Work group executive director Lorna Pestana and Leadership Jersey co-founders Kevin Keene and Jo Ferbrache Picture: David Ferguson

“A LOT of people work for terrible leaders.”

It was a sobering pronouncement and one which came as Leadership Jersey co-founder Kevin Keen presented the results of the organisation’s latest survey to a select audience of leaders including the Lieutenant Governor, Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd, Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham and the heads of Jersey Business, the Jersey Financial Services Commission, Institute of Directors Jersey branch, Jersey Hospitality Association and CIPD.

Sponsored by Law at Work, the survey was carried out by Emma Louise Veitch, of All Things Customer, who said that this year’s survey – the fourth of its kind – showed that the quality of leadership in Island businesses and organisations remained “pretty average”.

Delving deeper into the 480 responses received, Mr Keen said that the average rating of the quality of leadership within organisations was a “steady 6.5 out of ten”.

“The range that creates goes from absolutely brilliant to truly scary, with around 10% of leaders being rated one or two by their colleagues,” he said. “A lot of people work for terrible leaders – and we wonder why we have problems in our businesses.

“Today is therefore a plea for you to help us,” he added, urging those at the presentation in The Cultured Lounge to share the findings throughout the organisations they represented and encourage their teams and members to address this issue.

While colleagues rated their leaders an average 6.5, leaders themselves gave themselves a score of seven, with 66% rating themselves seven or eight.

Meanwhile, although 90% of people said that they preferred to work for a leader rather than a manager, 42% said that their boss was more of a manager than a leader, while just over 50% of respondents described their chief executive as a leader.

When it came to prioritising job satisfaction factors, 64% of respondents ranked work/life balance and flexible working as the most important consideration. This was followed by salary and benefits (56%), alignment of organisational values (52%), inspirational leadership (45%), company culture (43%), development progression opportunities (25%) and job security (15%).

Reflecting on the findings, Mr Keen expressed frustration at the consistently low averages.

“I find a lot of these results quite annoying,” he said. “There is a lot of potential in Jersey but there are also a lot of problems and the quality of leadership is something that we should be able to fix.

“When you go into an organisation and look at why the performance isn’t better than it is, most of the time, the discussions at the boardroom table are about people, rather than equipment or technology. If there is a problem, there is normally a person’s name attached to that problem. And if the leadership isn’t of the highest quality, those problems will continue.”

The Lieutenant-Governor, Vice-Admiral Jerry Kyd, and Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham Picture: DAVID FERGUSON 382875361

Trying to explain why this weakness remained, Mr Keen pointed to the fact that, according to the survey, 80% of people did not have the opportunity to appraise their boss’s performance.

“With that in mind, on what basis the leaders who are rating themselves seven or eight can do that, I have no idea,” he said.

As the audience mulled over the survey results, a general discussion about leadership models and cultures developed, with Vice-Admiral Kyd reflecting on the importance attached to this area in the military.

“In the Navy and Marines, around 10% of a person’s time is spent on leadership training,” he said. “The military also carries out a huge amount of benchmarking, looking at how leadership is seen by commercial, political and societal organisations. Ultimately, fighting power and the ability to win is an amalgam of three factors – physical (having the right equipment and tools), doctrine (knowing how to use those tools) and moral component. This is the most important factor, and comes down to motivating and inspiring people to do extraordinary things. If you can’t do that, then it doesn’t matter how much kit you have, you will still lose.”

Recognising that different generations were motivated by different factors and that society was changing at an “incredibly fast pace”, he continued: “We have also feminised the armed forces a lot over the past 30 years, and while it can be tough to get it right with mixed forces, the chances of winning are greatly enhanced by the attributes that this diversity brings.”

Returning the setting to a corporate environment, Mr Keen added: ‘In business, we are obsessed with financial results, and I don’t think people always connect good leadership with better financial results. Some people will keep a bad leader if they are delivering the commercial results, not realising that if the leader does a better job, the team will do a better job, be happier and, ultimately, will make more money.”

Considering the attributes that make someone a good leader, Vice-Admiral Kyd added: “We are in unprecedented times. The age of scrutiny is here, there is less room to manoeuvre and less tolerance for mistakes. In a more constrained environment, people worry about getting things wrong. In the military, we tend to want junior officers to make mistakes, so that they can learn from them.

“To keep up with the pace of change and to make decisions that will deliver results in an era of increasing uncertainty, leaders have to be authentic, self-aware and empathetic. Behaviour is driven by incentivisation and you incentivise people through inspiration, charisma and empathy.

“That is important to building and retaining the right skills and people in your team. If you can do that and build an organisation with a positive morale, you will win.”

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