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3 practical Leadership lessons from a Director of the Year award winner

One of the reasons I love my business is the wide range and large number of outstanding people I work with every day. John Gill is one such outstanding individual, he is the MD of Uvex UK and the very worthy winner of the IoD Surrey sponsored ‘Director of the Year’ award in the 2015 Toast of Surrey Business awards. I have had the pleasure of supporting John and his team for a while now.

Here is an edited summary of 3 broad leadership themes from an interview I had with him in my capacity as IoD Surrey committee member, shortly after his wining the award. I hope you find it useful.

1: Learning and responsibility: John didn’t have a special mentor manager or leadership hero as he started his journey, armed only with a healthy appetite for work, learning and stretching himself. Instead he had ‘The priceless luck of being a beneficiary of a brilliant sales training programme with the Upjohn company’ early in his career. He still rates that training as the ‘Gold Standard’, combining deep scientific understandings, a long, complex, sales process, good analysis, decision making and behaviour management.

‘What became obvious to me is that exposure to that learning exposed my DNA. Here was world class sales process, not just a broad sweep of skills. There was no blinding flash of inspiration but I could see how things fitted together and depended upon each other in business.’

He then became as ‘greedy as hell for more learning and responsibility’. ‘If you look hard enough there are plenty of opportunities in business’ He obviously found and grabbed them!

2: Developing business and people: I was keen to explore this in the context of Uvex achieving  Investors In People Gold award.

‘With world class people any company with inherent structural integrity, even in highly competitive and cluttered markets, can succeed’.

John believes that good process is the aggregation of good habits and common sense that is documented, logical and predictable. This means that it can be improved and the impact of changes to it observed and measured.  There must be room for gut feel, instinct and inspiration, but it must be from a solid base, especially as you continually push the bar.

He believes that there are no limits beyond our own imagination and executing strategy can be a rocky road, especially when you are ambitious. What you get is often a function of the clarity of your plan, the consistency of your processes and the quality of the people around you. John believes that consistency is critical, especially when applied to people. ‘Consistency creates certainty and confidence. It is critical in performance management. You must have a structure within which you can guide and develop your people, creating Way-Points on the journey to allow everyone to clearly calibrate and celebrate their contribution to success along the way. Managers must be resolute but it is easier to be so within a good structure.’

These beliefs and the operational platform he was creating, led him to investigate Investors In People – IIP accreditation and the business easily achieved basic accreditation a while ago. This was never going to be enough. He and the senior team could see the value in the higher levels, got greedy again and went for Gold IIP accreditation which they achieved last year. They are excited by the fact that there are levels within ’Gold’ which they are shooting for now.

3: Fear: Throughout our conversation John spoke to ‘Fearlessness’ and I was keen to explore his take on this in business.

‘For me it is a function of honesty and thoroughness. You must know your direction of travel, think things through deeply and don’t expect to fail. Put maximum effort into Plan A, thinking how big success would be – asking ’Am I setting the bar high enough?’ and plan for that where failure is not an option. Then put the work effort in’. This not only builds fearlessness but provides the ability to embrace adversity, which is always a threat in business and life in general. None of us have a divine right to be right. Where we have made a mistake or where Plan A is unachievable recalibrate, learn, implement the alternative with agility and have the humility to admit we didn’t get it right but we made the most of the situation. Leadership is not an ego trip’.

John shared so much good stuff with me, most of which is still in my notes. I just wanted to share this with you now.

Picture credit: TMS GetSurrey, Surrey Advertiser

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