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THOUGHT LEADERSHIP
Developing practical leadership
Malcolm Hewitt
Published: 20-SEP-05

It has come to be par for the course to think of bankers as people who have a deep preoccupation with red tape, spending a lot of time developing rules and implementing them.

It is therefore refreshing to speak to a banker, Malcolm Hewitt of Barclays Bank, who puts much emphasis on keeping things simple as a key to developing practical leadership. Hewitt says at the end of the day, a good business, organisation or country thrives on good leadership.

Hewitt will address *Eskom African Business Leaders Forum to be held on November 1-2 in Johannesburg's Sandton Convention Centre.

“Leadership is a critical component of the development process within a business or even a country. Leaders of note are those who are able to change the way things stand and chart a new path into the future.

“The world has seen a good number of such leaders. Nelson Mandela is an epitome of such leadership. He is a leader who is followed by people because he does not elevate himself above them, yet has achieved greatness in his humility and humanity.

"Ghandi was another leader who inspired people to action through simple yet effective solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges. JF Kennedy was also such a leader. So was Mother Teresa.”

Hewitt emphasised that in business, leadership has to reflect a senior positioning of the leader, without supremacy.

“Leaders have to know their business. This does not necessarily mean that they should consider themselves above the staff. However their seniority and leadership position should be acknowledged if they are to succeed in creating dynamic organisations.”

One of the major paradoxes of leadership is that while people expect a leader to have a significant amount of self-confidence, they may be repelled by such a leader if a perception develops that he is veering towards arrogance.

Therefore, good leadership calls for a happy equilibrium between a lack of cantankerous arrogance and a level of humility that may not allow a leader to be decisive.

Hewitt says leadership tends to be easier for people who are extroverts. Some people more than others seem to have a permanent twinkle in the eye. Such people are at the centre of the party and people follow them because of the sheer force of their personality.

However, there has been people who are not exceptionally extrovert who have been successful leaders.

Hewitt draws a parallel between Mandela and Mbeki, saying while Mbeki is less extrovert than Mandela, his ability to establish systems and policy, therefore leading from the front as a hands-on manager, is a strength that has been critical to his leadership style.

“I listened to Mbeki make the state of the nation address. He is very passionate about what he is delivering. You get the sense that he has a vision of how to change things for the better and that he is willing to marshal people behind him in reaching such goals.

"At the end of the day, each leader will have their own peculiarities and strengths."

Hewitt says at the end of the day, people would be inclined to appreciate a leader if they perceive him as having integrity and an ability to connect with people.

“The important thing is that people want to feel that a good person, a person of integrity, is leading them. They need to feel that he is genuine and that he is concerned about the needs of the broader populace. Of course, within a company that would mean being able to translate that into employee and broader organisatonal leadership.”

Hewitt says it is important to have an organisation that functions at an optimum level and at the same time, excites customers and staff so that they believe in the organisation and the products.

He added that it was an emphasis on simplifying the organisational message that led his organisation, Barclays, developing what they call the Five Cs. These are Customer, Community, Company, Colleagues, Control.

He explained the rationale behind the cascade.

“Customers of Barclays Bank need to feel that it is a trustworthy organisation. That is why we are the best bank in Africa - our customers trust us. This a rule that maintains with every business. Securing the trust and belief of customers is key to success in any enterprise.

Engagement and communication

“The community is important to us because we believe there is a need to plough back to the people who support your business in one way or the other. It is fo this reason that community investment is one of our five Cs. Companies like Barclays can make a very significant contribution in terms of such social needs as education, HIV/Aids and development.

“The company has to represent corporate integrity and consistency. Again, it is a rule that is of critical importance to all companies.

“Colleagues within the Bank represent a great asset. For this reason, we put a lot of emphasis on looking after our colleagues, providing them with the required training and ensuring that there are opportunities for individual growth within the organisation.

"People want it simple and clear. They want engagement and communication. They need acknowledgement that says you have done well. Equally they need to know that there are things that need to be changed for the better. They want to feel energy, they need to feel excited about their daily working environment, the future. A good leader is able to create such an environment.

“Also in relation to colleagues, it is important to reward good talent and hard work. Naturally, when it comes to talent, there are two ways of securing it - one can advertise and therefore be in line to secure talent that has been developed by other companies.

"Some companies go so far as to actively head hunt - some would say poach, talent from other organisations. The second way of securing talent is to develop such talent from within one’s organisation.

"At the end of the day, there has to be good synergy between the talent that a company secures and the operational system and philosophy it propounds. Out of the combination of good talent and good organisational systems, it is possible to produce outstanding leadership that can assist an organisation to grow and become more profitable.

"Overall, if colleagues are motivated to deliver their best within the organisation, it will translate into good service for customers. That, in turn, will result in good returns for the organisation.”

“Lastly, control is of critical importance because one needs to have the requisite systems within a banking environment. That contributes to the development of an organisation that has the trust of its customers and other businesses.”

Hewitt says Barclays sees Africa is a continent that has excellent growth prospects.

“We have been in Africa for a hundred years now. We have gone through some tough times. In most cases we stayed through such tough times. There was a time when we had to leave Uganda unceremoniously.

"A similar thing happened in Tanzania. Now we are back in those two countries.”

However, coming back to South Africa after leaving the country in 1986 was a critical milestone for the company. The move, which came after Barclays was lobbied by the pro-sanctions movement, saw Barclays sell the bank.

It was renamed First National, which is currently a Barclays opposition.

Hewitt will not comment elaborately on the matter, except to say “sometimes you have to make difficult decisions in business”.

Barclays has concluded the process of buying into Absa Bank, a process that was drawn out, with signals flashing red and green at regular intervals, with newspaper reports at some stage indicating the deal may be off.

Hewitt says he is pleased that the process has been completed.

“One thing that has become clear to us is that South Africa is a key to doing business on the continent. For this reason, making our re-entry into the country was one of the most critical periods of our existence on the continent.

"The process of buying into Absa Bank was one of the most exciting business projects that we have ever embarked on in Africa and we look forward to this unfolding.”

Clearly, all of this, leadership is and will continue to be crucial. Hewitt says the conference gives the broad range of speakers an opportunity to contribute to overall leadership on the continent.

The Eskom African Business Leaders Forum (now in its third successful year) will address the critical need to engage African leadership principles and practice in order to speed up much needed economic transformation of the continent. For more information about this conference go to: http://www.businessinafrica.net/conferences_events/eablf/



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