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The Leadership Lens: perspectives on effective leadership – Radek Sali

by Paul Hallam

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As part of a unique, comprehensive research study, we talked with CEOs from around the country about essential concepts of leadership they employ to develop effective teams, and, the ways to build a valuable leadership playbook for future generations.

The Leadership Lens is an 8-part interview series roundup; reporting the actionable leadership insights and lessons discovered throughout our exclusive question and answer sessions. In this edition, we bring you the leadership focus of Radek Sali.

Q: What does great leadership require?

A: I think the leader needs to be the most emotionally intelligent person in the room, but that is not necessarily driven by IQ.

Being an intelligent leader is important and a good grasp of core skills is a given at the leadership level. When businesses get to a certain size, you need to ensure you have a lot of smart people working with you and they must respect you. You need to bring something different to the table, more than core skills, a level of enthusiasm, inspiration and ability to bring out the best in people. In essence, you should be able to naturally inspire people.

Q: What are most important competencies and skills for a leader to possess?

A: I think being an expert in your craft as well as a willingness to change and reinvent while also encouraging your team to do the same. A leader is the personal trainer for the team. They bring people on the journey, getting them to a better place. For example, at Swisse, our executive leadership team have each been extraordinarily brave in sharing feedback amongst the wider team, without being egotistical about it.

“A leader is the personal trainer for the team”.

For want of a better analogy, one we're all familiar with, if you watch a football team, and the coach who is giving feedback to a player on how to improve, you notice the players listening intently and respecting every word that's being shared. I'm not sure that happens enough in business. Permission to coach, permission to learn on the job without being concerned about the ramifications.

Q: What are the current gaps in leadership capability have you identified?

A: I think authenticity is a real issue. You can be found out quickly if you're not being who you are. Attempting to shift workplace culture or ‘influence’ simply by setting up a meditation room is not enough. Leaders need to be real and be prepared to change. They should be prepared to admit when they’re wrong, admit mistakes and show what they’ve learned from them. Those attributes are difficult traits to find and difficult things to quiz around when you're looking for people.

When I look at the top ten companies in Australia, they really haven't changed fundamentally in the last 50 years. When I look at the top ten companies of the number one economy in the world however, the USA, they have the most valuable organisations in the world and are all new in the last ten years. It scares me that Australian businesses aren't at that forefront. We have inherent conservatism where financial institutions are the ones that lead and there's a genuine lack of IT, health and new areas which are the future economies.

Q: What are the most in demand leadership capabilities for the future?

A: I think a deeper understanding of emotional intelligence (EQ); seeing the bigger picture and what's happening in the broader world. For industries that are going through massive disruption, leaders will need to think outside of the square about how things have always been done, and I believe that requires a collision with other industries to create a point of difference.

Lack of emotional intelligence in leaders creates limitations when they think about hiring people. Yes, experience is important in a category but there are other functional and fundamental skills that I believe can make a great leader. If a leader doesn’t have high EQ they are less likely to identify these.

Q: Can you teach emotional intelligence?

A: Interestingly, we do a lot of work around measuring people's leaderships skillsets. We used a lot of third parties to help us do that at Swisse, and use the information to work through and coach in private one-on-ones, and regularly check in on the overall temperament of the organisation.

We also did a clinical trial with LaTrobe University to measure people's stress levels throughout an eight-week period of taking on meditation and asking about people's EQ. We helped to significantly improve people's EQ through daily meditation. So, if HR says a person doesn’t have any EQ, or their manager says they need to improve their EQ, there are structured ways to improve that through coaching and development, but there's also some softer things like meditation. Meditation is about finding your inner balance and your inner voice and then being at peace with that.

Q: What do you do to identify and map leadership capabilities?

A: Great question. 360 feedback is a great tool and I always try to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity. In our case initially went from five leaders to ten, to thirty. The process is about capturing the people getting outstanding results for our industry and identifying their habits. Some of them are good, and you turn up the volume on those, while helping to improve habits I observe early on that aren’t so good. 360 feedback helps me identify which leaders I can fast track.

This approach has helped our business grow rapidly, and while quite a blunt process, it has fundamentally helped us to understand what individual issues are, the ways we can mentor people and the leadership journey we need to take that person on.

Q: Looking forward five to ten years. Do you see any significant changes in how you will lead people and how you would like to be led and why?

A: It's definitely an endless journey of change, leadership and the demands of reinvention is a staple for being successful. Machinery and technology are challenging roles like never before so for us to remain relevant and ahead of the AI game, we need to be more human. Therefore, leaders should accept the fact that we need to have a good hard look at ourselves very regularly and challenge what we do well, what we're not doing so well and look to improve that.

 

Radek Sali Founder, Light Warrior and former CEO of Swisse Wellness Australia. He spoke with Paul Hallam from Six Degrees Executive as part of our Future of Leadership research project.