Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Future of leadership and management teams

Published in Business Times Singapore last month:

It's seldom that topics as broad-ranging as anti-aging drugs, radio frequency identification, carbon trading, consumer
behavior and corporate leadership get tossed into the same presentation, and even less often that such a presentation makes
coherent sense.

Dr Patrick Dixon, a UK-based consultant and author who conducted a seminar in Singapore yesterday, manages it. Yet for
all his mention of cutting edge technologies, he boils leadership down to plain old common sense.

""Its an ancient truth about human beings that they want to feel like they matter, but it is so profoundly ignored'', he
said in an interview.

Strong leadership is central to improving profits and productivity, but is also crucial to attracting talent. Building a
good team is in turn critical to and is indeed ""the best way'' to manage risks in a fast-changing world, said Dr Dixon,
who has advised the likes of Microsoft, IBM, UBS, Siemens and others on the strategic implications of future trends.

Dr Dixon said he had examined speeches by historial leaders like Gandhi, Mao Zedong, Stalin and Hitler and that ""all
leadership speeches have a similar structure''. This goes loosely along the lines of: Follow me, because together I believe
we can build a better future for us, our family and friends, and not only those we care for but for humankind...

That some of the above leaders have used this motivational technique to commit atrocities only demonstrates its
seductive power, which derives not from an appeal to naked self-interest but to a collective sense of purpose, or a
""higher moral principle'', said Dr Dixon.

He gave the example of a pharmaceutical manager who wants to motivate staff to develop new packaging for their drugs --
young children are finding it too easy to open, while the elderly are finding it too difficult. It is easier to motivate
the team members if you can help them identify with the purpose for better packaging, such as that children might poison
themselves, or that older folks might be struck down by heart attacks before they can get to their medicine.

""People will only follow yo if they think you know where you're going and they think where you're going is important'',
he also said.

Most senior executives understand this but do not realise that their communications to staff are often bogged down in
rhetoric about shareholder value and returns on equity. Dr Dixon offers an exercise -- imagine explaining what you do to a
ten-year old child in under two minutes and in a way that gets them excited about the job.

Trained as a medical doctor at Cambridge, Dr Dixon also founded Medicom, a medical software start-up, and the AIDS care
agency Acet International. He is the author of Futurewise: Six Faces of Global Change, among other books.

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