LIW: bust­ing lead­er­ship myths

Henry Ford set out with the am­bi­tion to ‘democra­tise the au­to­mo­bile’ and to­day wide­spread ac­cess to the car has trans­formed so­ci­ety. Aus­tralian com­pany Lead­ing Ini­tia­tives World­wide (LIW) now wants to do the same with lead­er­ship and LIW CEO Pia Lee is con

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By her own ad­mis­sion, Pia Lee has an ‘un­usual back­ground’. As a high school teacher in the UK in what she terms some ‘pretty tricky schools’, she learned a lot about hu­man be­hav­iour. ‘From lock­ing the class­room to keep the chil­dren inside in in­ner city state schools, to han­dling stressed high­fly­ing pri­vate schools, to teach­ing in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, who two years ear­lier were at war with each other, that’s a good ground­ing in un­der­stand­ing what makes peo­ple tick’ she says.

Yet given her next move, some may have ques­tioned her own be­hav­iour.

Af­ter ten years work­ing in the school sys­tem, Pia started think­ing about her stu­dents and what be­came of them when they en­tered the busi­ness world.

The trail led her to im­mi­grate to Aus­tralia, where she lit­er­ally had to start her life again.

‘I ar­rived in 2000 with no job and nowhere to live, but a pas­sion to an­swer the ques­tion of what di­rec­tion my stu­dents had taken’ Pia says. Per­haps to fol­low a trail you have to cre­ate your own path and that is ex­actly what Pia did.

‘My first job in Aus­tralia was work­ing at the Syd­ney Olympics as a street cleaner which taught me a lot in a short pe­riod of time. Be­ing rel­a­tively in­vis­i­ble gives you the best op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve how hu­mans be­have around you. Some­times that’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing.’

This led her to be­com­ing in­volved with LIW, then a fledg­ling com­pany based in Syd­ney, set up by three ex-army of­fi­cers and which to­day is a thriv­ing and am­bi­tious lead­er­ship con­sul­tancy en­gaged with lead­ing For­tune 500 or­gan­i­sa­tions glob­ally. LIW now op­er­ates in 30 coun­tries across the world but when Pia joined, she was its first em­ployee.

Five years later she be­came a

Di­rec­tor and af­ter a fur­ther six years, be­came the CEO.

Pia has spent the last 16 years fully im­mersed in or­gan­i­sa­tional lead­er­ship across the globe in­clud­ing study­ing a Masters in Or­gan­i­sa­tional Coach­ing and Lead­er­ship to go deep into the back­ground of a sub­ject that has be­come her driv­ing force. ‘It’s strange but I ini­tially felt like a fail­ure in that I wasn’t cut out to be­come a tech­ni­cal ex­pert in life like a lawyer, en­gi­neer or doc­tor but later on I re­alised that I may have a place in sup­port­ing these tech­ni­cal ex­perts to ex­pand their reach and have a greater im­pact.’

These ex­pe­ri­ences and stud­ies helped to form Pia’s views on lead­er­ship and they are re­fresh­ingly dif­fer­ent from the norm.

‘There are a cou­ple of myths about lead­er­ship that ex­ist to­day that aren’t re­ally use­ful,’ she says. ‘One of them is that lead­er­ship be­longs to only a few lead­ers and the sec­ond is that those few lead­ers need to know all the an­swers. This re­ally bowties the ca­pa­bil­ity of an or­gan­i­sa­tion around a few peo­ple rather than mul­ti­ply­ing the ef­forts of the larger group.’

‘Over the 21 years that LIW has ex­isted we’ve formed the view that ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship needs to ex­ist at ev­ery level of an or­gan­i­sa­tion and its fo­cus is about cre­at­ing the best con­di­tions for oth­ers to achieve suc­cess. What we no­tice is that tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise be­comes less rel­e­vant as you progress in an or­gan­i­sa­tion and lead­er­ship be­comes more im­por­tant as the cat­a­lyst for en­abling more to be achieved,’ Pia says.

‘Prag­ma­tism is a key value for LIW. Our ap­proach has aca­demic back­ing but we keep it sim­ple enough for every­one to un­der­stand. Lead­er­ship is about cre­at­ing the con­di­tions of suc­cess for oth­ers. Lead­ers need to de­velop real clar­ity, pro­vide an op­ti­mal en­vi­ron­ment and build com­pe­tence in their peo­ple so that they can achieve their goals. We al­ways start with a sim­ple ques­tion to our clients: What are you try­ing to achieve and why? This helps us to give a busi­ness the out­comes they’re try­ing to achieve.’

‘If we are re­ally clear what those busi­ness ob­jec­tives are and we iden­tify them for in­di­vid­u­als as well as for the or­gan­i­sa­tion, then we can plan and mea­sure a more tan­gi­ble change and iden­tify the real im­pact that’s been made.’

‘When we know what the di­rec­tion is and what the lead­er­ship needs to be, we can then look at in­no­va­tive ways to close the gaps in that or­gan­i­sa­tion. It may be through coach­ing, de­vel­op­ment cen­tres, top team work­shops or en­ter­prisewide lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment pro­grams.’

As well as clar­ity, good lead­ers build great cli­mates where the cul­ture en­ables suc­cess and the sys­tems and pro­cesses in­clud­ing IT, per­for­mance man­age­ment and re­mu­ner­a­tion help, not hin­der, in­di­vid­u­als.

‘The cli­mate is re­ally, re­ally key. We need to un­der­stand the struc­ture of the or­gan­i­sa­tion; is it hi­er­ar­chi­cal? Is it silo ori­en­tated? Does it en­cour­age cross-func­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion?’ The cul­ture, as Pia in­di­cates, is driven very largely by the leader’s ex­am­ple. ‘Re­search tells us that lead­ers have an im­pact of po­ten­tially 70% on or­gan­i­sa­tional cli­mate through their lead­er­ship ex­am­ple and the stan­dards they set. This lead­er­ship ex­am­ple is not al­ways what it could be,’ ob­serves Pia. ‘In fact there’s of­ten a siz­able dif­fer­ence be­tween a leader and lead­er­ship – of­ten we make the mis­take that one will mean the other!’

It seems to be an ap­proach to de­vel­op­ing busi­ness lead­er­ship that is work­ing. ‘To­day, we have op­er­a­tions across the globe, but we’ve re­tained that core pur­pose as well as our val­ues while con­stantly seek­ing new ways to add value to our clients. Ev­ery day there is a pro­gram where we are get­ting con­sis­tent per­sonal trans­for­ma­tions which are help­ing to shape the or­gan­i­sa­tions that we work in and these are run­ning from the shores of Tan­za­nia to the floors of Sil­i­con Val­ley. We’re see­ing the fruits of that labour come through with a num­ber of awards that we’ve won glob­ally with our clients, par­tic­u­larly in the last two years and that re­flects both the busi­ness im­pact and the strong part­ner­ships that we have.’

The fol­low­ing di­a­gram gives an in­di­ca­tion of the prob­lems busi­nesses face and the way LIW goes about fa­cil­i­tat­ing change, par­tic­u­larly in mat­ters of lead­er­ship.

LIW uses a four-step ap­proach to help its clients de­liver im­pact through lead­er­ship:

achieve them and the de­sign that will un­lock those be­hav­iours.

2. Real work in the room – the im­me­di­ate ap­pli­ca­tion of clients’ learn­ing to a real busi­ness chal­lenge which is aligned to the or­gan­i­sa­tional goals. A typ­i­cal pro­gram con­sists of 50% learn­ing and 50% ap­pli­ca­tion with sup­port from con­sul­tants. 3. Ap­pli­ca­tion sup­port – LIW has a num­ber of proven op­tions for help­ing peo­ple to take their learn­ings back to the real world to de­liver the or­gan­i­sa­tional strate­gies. From Turn­ing Learn­ing into Ac­tion® phone coach­ing to man­ager and group coach­ing pro­vided by LIW part­ner Lever Learn­ing.

4. Im­pact mea­sure­ment – a proven method to mea­sure busi­ness im­pact us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of sur­veys and in­ter­views to give broad and rich data.

‘There is a lot of work to be done to be able to mea­sure the im­pact from a lead­er­ship pro­gram and how that di­rectly im­pacts busi­ness out­comes,’ Pia says.

‘I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that we part­ner with an or­gan­i­sa­tion and that it is a joint process be­tween the or­gan­i­sa­tion and our­selves to be able to mea­sure that im­pact. We’ll be look­ing at sur­veys. We’ll be look­ing at em­ployee en­gage­ment scores. We’ll be look­ing at psy­cho­me­t­ric anal­y­sis that we might do be­fore and af­ter.’

Scal­ing the busi­ness re­quires plan­ning. ‘It’s re­ally im­por­tant to main­tain a con­sis­tent ap­proach but also one that is the right cul­tural fit for the coun­try as well as the or­gan­i­sa­tion. We need to have the scale of a global ap­proach but it needs to have that lo­cal feel. That’s re­ally im­por­tant be­cause a num­ber of our con­tracts are with multi­na­tion­als where we are de­liv­er­ing lead­er­ship so­lu­tions po­ten­tially based in 10 to 20 coun­tries around the world. We need to have that scale. We also need to have the prac­ti­cal­ity.’

Look­ing back through her life. Pia has never been one to shy away from a chal­lenge. As she looks ahead, the next chal­lenge and op­por­tu­nity is clear: to take lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment out of or­gan­i­sa­tions and into the wider world; in the spirit of Henry Ford, by ‘democratis­ing lead­er­ship’.

By 2020, LIW wants to have an im­pact on one mil­lion peo­ple. ‘That’s a huge num­ber and to reach those peo­ple will re­quire sim­plic­ity of mes­sage and new, low-cost ap­proaches. Most peo­ple can’t af­ford to at­tend a tra­di­tional lead­er­ship pro­gram so we need to look to the dig­i­tal world to make our am­bi­tion a re­al­ity. The ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity here is to do some­thing that has never been done be­fore: to use tech­nolo­gies such as ma­chine learn­ing and big data to en­able any­one, any­where to get things done to­gether.’

Pia has a fi­nal call to ac­tion. ‘We can’t do this alone. We’re look­ing for peo­ple who share our pas­sion for democratis­ing lead­er­ship to join our quest. Given the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties at this time – there’s a lot at stake if we don’t.’


1. De­sign for im­pact - a prag­matic process to un­der­stand de­sired busi­ness out­comes, the spe­cific lead­er­ship be­hav­iours that will

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