Five Ways to Lead Responsibly - HCLI’s New CEO
HQ Asia sat down with HCLI’s recently-joined CEO, Michael Jenkins, for a discussion on what responsible leadership looks like, and why we should stop using the phrase ‘bounce back’.
Born in Malaysia and raised in Uganda, Michael Jenkins has worked in countries such as Japan, France, the UK, and Singapore. When asked about how his childhood impacted his approach to leadership, Jenkins shared that there is value in being raised in a country different than the one your parents are from.
At nine-years-old, Jenkins’ parents decided that he would be sent to boarding school in Wales. This decision was based on a few reasons, one of which was opportunity. At the time, the Jenkins family was living in Uganda and there weren’t many school options. “I left the noise, the colours, the smells, the carefree nature of Africa and landed in cold and dark Wales in the late 1970s,” he says. “This obliges you to develop resilience, to be prepared to draw from reserves of energy.”
Though Jenkins acknowledges that this experience was tough and he was young, he also feels that it cemented certain traits like resilience and tenacity. This has served Jenkins well: he says that when things get difficult, he has a well to draw on. He also shares that this experience of living far from home and family at a young age taught him to have lower expectations, and to be happy when people want to get involved in a project or initiative. Research findings from a study conducted at University College London found that happiness is the management of expectations. Researcher Rudd Rutledge said, that happiness “depends on whether things are going better or worse than you had expected they would.”
What Leading Responsibly Looks Like
1. Meeting people where they are
Jenkins shares that this lesson has come from his upbringing and diverse work experience. “Meeting people from different walks of life at different times in my life has taught me to be non-judgmental and to meet and accept people where they are at,” he says. He also shares that developing an appreciation for how someone else sees the world is valuable. If you find yourself disagreeing with someone’s opinion, Jenkins advises to first think deeply about his or her opinion. It might just be a different way of thinking. “It is important for leaders today to promote non-judgmental, encouraging, generous, and kind behaviours,” says Jenkins.
2. Managing transitions
There is the old adage, leave things better than you found them. This is especially true in leadership positions. For a newly appointed CEO, it can take weeks to understand the core business and value proposition. Jenkins says that when a CEO first joins, this is their first responsibility. “What is ironic is that opportunities may fall away because the CEO is still in the phase of understanding the business,” says Jenkins. But what if the new CEO could pick up where the previous one left off? While it may not always be the case, all professionals can consciously manage transitions by leaving a blueprint for their successor and where feasible, set in train some new initiatives too.
3. Focusing on humanity
“Given the challenges the world faces now, there is no doubt in my mind that we need more—and not less—humanity from leaders,” Jenkins says. He references the changes in the digital world such as social media, the internet, and tools that often make our lives easier but more isolating. Feeling positive about the future, Jenkins believes that we may run the risk of sub-optimising technology out of a mis-placed concern and fear about the rise of AI. “Technology is unlikely to replicate or replace human beings: jobs might change and disappear, but they will be balanced out by the creation of new ones,” he says. Rather, leading responsibly in this age of digital disruption means focusing on how to create better connections and interactions and keeping an open mind about the possibilities that lie ahead.
4. Creating a safe and secure place
Possibly drawing on the lessons and tenacity Jenkins learned from boarding school, he shares that it is a leader’s job to be positive and calm. When things are going well— and more importantly when they are not— compassionate leaders create safe and secure places. “Compassionate leaders pick others up and dust them off. They look at experiences as learning opportunities,” Jenkins says. Because leaders want their teams to be successful, creating safe spaces for experimentation is a good way to encourage people to embrace innovation. Making teams fearful of failure – and being overly critical when missteps happen - is a sure-fire way of smothering new ideas and ways of doing things.
5. Listening, really listening
Have self-awareness of how well you listen. Are you patient with pauses so that colleagues have enough time to share? Do you really hear what they are saying? When asked how to scale this in a large organisation, Jenkins uses the analogy of a pebble dropped into still water. By sharing stories with a couple of colleagues and really listening to them, this will fan out and eventually be heard throughout the larger organisation.
A responsible leader is reliable and thoughtful while being strategic and focused on excellence. Jenkins stresses that leaders must be consistent: say what you do and do what you say.
At the end of the day, responsible leadership is doing the right thing. It is about embracing what is best for the organisation, being authentic, and creating a work environment where people want to be involved and contribute their best efforts, and at the end of the day when that journey comes to an end, it is about leaving things better than we found them.