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Hunting down those with a determination to lead

THE job of finding good people, especially those to lead an organisation, has become harder.

No longer is it enough to use past experience to judge a person’s leadership potential.

Indeed these days, people are leaping into corporate leadership from the strangest of professions.

Nearly every senior management team appears to have at least one ex-school teacher or military officer. And a number of ex-priests and ministers are carving niches in the sales and human resources areas.

tmp.worldwide eResourcing general manager Barry Knight said corporate searches were becoming harder as organisations stopped looking for managers and started looking for leaders.

“Because the obvious is not so obvious, people are starting to look outside the square, and that makes the selection process harder,” he said.

“We have to take three things into account. Can the person do the job? Will the person do the job? Will the person fit into the organisation?

“In order to find the right person for an organisation you have to know what you’re looking for. You ask the client what core competencies are needed for their business to go forward.”

Competencies are becoming more valuable than skills.

“We’re being asked to predict the future performance of leaders. We use a lot of psychometric testing to get in behind the face behind the mask so to speak,” Mr Knight said.

He said the core competencies of other professions could well fit into many businesses.

“In the US it would not be unlikely for a former zoologist to be appointed CEO of a big engineering company,” Mr Knight said.

“When you think about it, the core competencies of a school teacher such as leadership, clear communication and organisation can be readily transferable to the corporate world.

“So too, people from the armed services can move quite successfully into corporate management.

“In fact, the armed services have some of the most modern leadership training going.”

Mr Knight believes leaders have to fit the culture of the organisation.

The recent ructions at the ABC would seem to support that view, he said.

Mr Knight also believes it is the ability to have and articulate a vision that sets leaders apart.

“Leaders tend to have a vision and share that vision with their organisation. If they can get their people to embrace the vision then they will take them with them,” he said. “They can sell the benefits of that vision to their workers.

“And good leaders spend a lot of time with their people. They spend their time working in the business rather than on it.”

In tmp’s case that means former boss Andrew Banks spending about half an hour sitting at reception whenever he comes to town.

However, working in the business is the opposite of the advice given to most small business people. They are told to spend time working on their business and not getting caught up in the day-to-day running of the firm.

Mr Knight believes in big organisations that can result in the management team becoming divorced from the reality of the firm and the problems its staff face. In some cases they can miss the need for change.

“Good leaders embrace the good things about change and make change their friend,” he said.

“They are always looking to see how things can be made to work better.”

Mr Knight said the corporate world had lost a lot of the order it used to have.

“In the old days a bank manager had a list of duties and if he met those duties well then he was thought of as a good bank manager,” he said.

“These days banks want their managers to be a little more entrepreneurial. With that comes the risk of making mistakes.

“Most good leaders made more mistakes than other because of their willingness to try different things.”

Mr Knight ranks Mayne Health’s managing director Peter Smedley and Peter & Brownes boss Graham Laitt among the best leaders he has seen.

“Mayne had a shocking year last year. Peter came along and turned everything around,” he said.

“And Graham’s work with Peters & Brownes has been a grand example of leadership. He set up an employee relations office on site so people could work through any workplace issues there.

“A lot of good ideas that have helped the company advance have come up through the shop floor. The company is now steaming ahead.”

Mr Knight said many industries were facing skills shortages so it was important to be seen as an employer of choice.

“People want to go where their skills and ideas will be appreciated,” he said. “Skills are now being sought internationally. A lot of international companies are coming to WA hunting for people.”

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