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Interview What's the secret to being a good leader? Our Q&A with Chris Roebuck will tell us this and more

What's the secret to being a good leader? Our Q&A with Chris Roebuck will tell us this and more

For a history graduate I’m always looking forward – tomorrow never dies right?

The qualities it takes to be a good leader can be observed up close and personal. Whether it's our very first manager or our current leaders, our approach is often shaped and moulded by experience.

That said, the requirements a modern day leader needs to be successful are both similar, and unique, to past decades. On the one hand, a leader still needs to deliver success. On the other, the world is changing at an incredible pace, with new threats and opportunities present in equal number.

So when we sat down with leadership expert Chris Roebuck, it's fair to say we had quite a few questions to throw at him. Happily for us he took the time to answer them all and we hope there's some nuggets of advice down below to ensure you become a successful leader too. 

Hi Chris. Reading your biography it seems you’ve worked in every type of organisation out there. How did that happen?

I’ve always aimed to do what is interesting, challenging and where I feel I can make a difference. As one challenge draws to a close I start to look for others that add to my breadth of experience. Although some moves have been described as slightly wild by other people, eg accountancy to army and global & investment banking to NHS.

What fascinates me is that every organisation thinks their problems are special to them, yet my journey revealed that 90% of what delivers success is common – all organisations are made up of human beings who have much the same desires in terms of what they want from work and life.

So in reality a leaders ability to deliver success is not a complex theoretical process but a simple common sense based day to day actions which get the best from inspired people delivering a good plan !  

That experience plus over 260 real world studies, psychology, neuroscience, financial modelling and insights from respected business leaders align to my approach to how organisations can be successful, what I call “I Care” leadership – secret to success”

Going back to the start of your career you spent some time in the Army. Now, this August you’ve been invited to speak to officers onboard HMS Albion, the Royal Navy's operational command ship. What similarities are there between military and civilian leaders that you’ll be able to draw upon and what are the differences?

Both military and civilian leaders lead people, it’s just that the military has to get it right in much more challenging situations. So, despite assumptions, in any organisation good leaders do exactly the same – they have great task management skills, get the best from people and then focus that onto what delivers success.

This even goes down to the level of specific day to day actions in both that good leaders use to get super performance. The main difference is that the military must do things perfectly because the consequences of getting it wrong are so terrible.

So the military takes the basics; simple objectives, clear communication, big picture understanding, common purpose, devolving decision making to the lowest level and trust based relationships to the highest possible level.

One obvious difference is that the military lives by a “we not me” culture that contrasts with the frequent commercial “me not we” culture. However any commercial organisation able to move towards the military “we not me” approach, even a little, will reap significant rewards, potentially 10%+ on the bottom line for free ! 

One interesting example from reading your biography that struck me was your time spent at KMPG launching a new business unit. How do you lead a group of employees through such a pronounced period of change?

This was an interesting example of meeting an untapped market need. In 2000 with the launch of financial service regulation in the City of London the large financial services organisations needed to prepare and submit records on the qualifications and experience of those engaged in transactions to show they were “fit and proper”.

The deadline was quite tight bearing in mind organisations had never collated such records before so there was a significant “front end heavy” task to create a consistent approach, collect and collate data and then submit the results. So KPMG set up a team that could help support this process and supplemented this with an external associate academy working under the KPMG brand.

The approach was that once the initial set up had been completed the organisations would then be able to run an maintain the process using their internal resources. Thus it was a time limited business which would effectively put itself out of business but it was also an opportunity to meet a significant short term market need.

I worked with KPMG colleagues developing the delivery and marketing strategy, recruiting the associates and getting engagement from major financial institutions.

So a really interesting experience in building a new business. It also led to my appointment as Head of Management Development for HSBC Investment Bank !  

Your time at UBS is interesting if not for the fact it’s now used as a Harvard case study! How did that come about?

UBS was the creation of a new global bank via multiple mergers. In 2002 the challenges was to transform 6 separate businesses into one bank, “One UBS”, within 2 years. It was an opportunity to create something special; an organisation of 70,000 led by a group of 500 completely aligned, networked & entrepreneurial leaders who leveraged the world class customer service and were world class leaders. In the second year we added a group of the top 1% of talented future leaders. 

My role as Global Head of Talent and Leadership with colleagues on a special team reporting to the CEO, the Leadership Institute, was to create a culture and environment where this would happen.  

Within 2 years profits had gone up 235%, market capitalisation up 130% and brand value 51%  even with a 3% headcount cut. Harvard approached us as they had seen the complete transformation that had been achieved in such a short time and wanted to know how we had done it – answer was simple, creating a total alignment of capable, enthusiastic and entrepreneurial people and innovative process to customers needs.   

The core UBS approach to transforming performance is still an effective road map for any organisation wanting to be the best not just banks. Interestingly this isn’t just for global corporates it also applies to smaller organisations and even SMEs.     

So Chris, is there a secret to good leadership?

I prefer to come at it from the perspective of what delivers success, not just individual leadership. Yes that’s a key part of success but not all of it. As well as individual leaders it’s about their people and the wider organisation.

Too often leadership speakers just focus on individuals being a better leader, but that doesn’t necessarily deliver success for the organisation. So do the leaders actions align to strategic objectives, do they enhance customer service even if not customer facing or just deliver their own local objectives?

It’s about how you can be the leader people give their best but then also focus that best on to what delivers success for the organisation via serving it’s customers. As for the secret its easy – you know what inspires you to give your best – just do that for your people and your colleagues. 

If there was one message you wanted to leave audiences with, what would it be?

Be good at your technical expertise and show people you care, through building trust – creating that “we not me” environment. The people will then give their you best and that will deliver success in whatever you seek to achieve.

Also at the end of my speaking I always make audiences decide on one action they will take to be better and the final message is “make sure you go and do it to make a difference !” I’ve been sent some great success stories a few weeks or even years later telling me how that one thing did make a real difference.  

And finally, what’s next for you?

Im doing a range of exciting things from video interviews with top business leaders to get their insights to share with my audiences to developing individual senior or aspiring leaders as a mentor or groups via my “I Care” Masterclasses and Im developing an online course based on this as well.  Also continuing my work developing the next generation of business leaders in my role of Hon Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership at Cass Business School London.  

But everything I do has one objective - to show as many people as possible that they can unleash their own potential and that of their people and organisation quickly and easily using knowledge they already have to enable everyone to have an inspiring and rewarding life. That’s what we all deserve as human beings but not everyone gets – I just want to play a small part in helping make sure more do.  

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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