The leaders that made me: Early in his career, Cirrus CEO Simon Hayward found himself confronted with a boss who demanded obedience.
By Adam Gale in Management Today.
Who have you learned from the most in your career? Looking back, it’s tempting to focus on the people who’ve mentored, coached and supported you. Bad bosses rarely get mentions in Oscar acceptance speeches.
But often it’s the lessons of what not to do that stick in the mind. We experience working for someone who says or does the wrong thing, and we resolve not to do that the same ourselves.
Here, Cirrus CEO Simon Hayward shares a story of a run-in with a command-and-control leader, which ended up having a formative influence on his own approach to leadership.
“In my 20s I was a divisional managing director of a plc when a new executive chairman was brought in following a takeover. Prior to being taken over, we had a very devolved style of leadership. I had a lot of autonomy. Suddenly we had a new chairman who demanded compliance.
“He was a classic old-school ‘my way or the highway’ type of leader. This completely jarred with my natural sense of independence and it’s fair to say we didn’t exactly hit it off. Perhaps rather naively I challenged his views quite a lot which led to clashes between us.
“I felt that I was delivering results so should be given more space. We had completely different belief systems and styles of leadership. He was driven by a desire to control. It reached the stage where I could either give in or leave, so I chose to leave.
“The experience made me realise that I am fiercely independent and not comfortable with being closely managed. I left to pursue a career in consultancy, where independence of mind is more valued.
“This was a formative experience for me because frankly it was a rare example of failure, which proved salutary. I learned from it. To be a leader in a corporate environment you have to be adaptable and able to cope with sudden change. You also need a degree of humility.
“I realise now that I could have handled the whole situation differently and taken a more nuanced approach. Influencing others often requires tact and diplomacy to gain confidence.
“The experience has influenced how I work when I’m advising other leaders. I am a firm believer in openness and devolved responsibility and I went on to explore this further in my doctoral research and first book, which focused on collaborative achievement – the antithesis of the ‘my way or the highway’ style of leadership.
“Perhaps if I’d been a bit more adaptable in my 20s things would have turned out quite differently for me in that plc. But I have loved building Cirrus into a successful leadership consultancy business, so I guess everything turned out pretty well in the end.”
© Management Today 2020.
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