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Global Leadership Network UK & Ireland

WCA UK & Ireland

Life and Leadership – Roger Fairhead – 9

Roger Fairhead

Interview series with leadership specialist, Roger Fairhead

What is one mistake you witness your clients or leaders in general making more frequently than others? Is there a certain behaviour or trait that you have seen damage or derail careers? How do you help steer people away from, or work through, such mistakes and behaviours?

You simply cannot lead people the same way that you manage things. The skills and attributes that bring you to a position of leadership are often not the skills that you will need to keep you there. It is like a musician who becomes a successful performer through dedication and hard work. To transition to becoming a conductor takes quite a different set of skills. It is no longer enough to have mastered one instrument; you need to understand how to play other instruments. You want the orchestra to perform at its peak and achieve the sound you are after, so you need to know how to draw the best out of each musician.

Learn to see people as they are, not as you are. I once worked with a Chief Executive and Operations Director to try to resolve an issue that they had allowed to grow to a point of significant disagreement. The issue was causing the organisation to suffer and I was asked to help bring resolution and a way forward. After initial discussions individually, we met together and I asked them to try to explain the situation from the other’s perspective. I gave them both 20 minutes. The CEO went first and when they had finished, the Operations Director nodded their agreement and looked at me as if to say, “now can you see what the problem is?” But when it came to their turn, they spent the next 20 minutes unable to describe the situation from the perspective of the CEO. This simple exercise was really helpful in exposing where the problem lay and helped towards solving the disagreement. We need to be able to see people through their eyes – their experience and understanding – and not just through our own.

We are all unique – and understanding ourselves is only half the challenge! Understanding my own personality and the things that motivate me are really valuable for leading myself well. It follows that if you want to lead people well then make a point of understanding their personalities and motivators. Figure out what drives and draws you, and what pushes and pulls you. Then do it for each member of your team. Applying this exercise can produce more growth, satisfaction and fulfilment for everyone, and it is good for your organisation.

We are all unique – and we need a common language. Having a vocabulary for behaviours and motives in a team is helpful in understanding each other’s actions and anticipating responses. As a young engineer, I worked with a maintenance team that had two engineers who worked very differently. One was really methodical and seemed to take forever to complete their work on a machine, whereas the other was quick. The shift manager explained to me that whenever there was a breakdown, he would send the quick engineer so that the machine would be back up and running in no time. But he made sure that the slower engineer was assigned to each of the machines in the factory during planned maintenance over the course of a year. In this way, factory efficiency was optimised – breakdown time was kept to a minimum whilst maintenance standards were kept high. It also enabled both engineers to work to their strengths.

We tend to judge other people by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. As a newly married couple, Sue and I started to develop a routine of shopping on a Saturday morning. To me this seemed like a waste of time so, despite my dislike of shopping, I offered to call in to the supermarket on my way home from work and save our Saturday mornings. From my perspective, I was offering to sacrifice my time for my wife – a sacrifice she was sure to appreciate. But my idea was rejected without discussion. Years later, when I recalled the discouragement of that rejection, I discovered that I had overlooked the simple fact that Sue loves shopping. What I had offered to do was to remove one of the highlights of her weekend! To me, this illustrates the kinds of misunderstandings that can happen in the workplace also. We might disagree on something simply because we see it from a different perspective – our different backgrounds, make-ups and experiences draw different conclusions. This is why I work with teams on developing a common language because without it we will have difficulty understanding another’s viewpoint. This can become further confused since we tend to judge other people on their actions and ourselves on our intentions.

There are many frameworks that help teams find a common language. Some are more complex than others – they are all great and work better in different contexts. For teamwork, I like to use a framework that is fairly easy to understand – or less easy to misunderstand! I find that the simpler the tool is to grasp, the more likely it is to be adopted for regular use. That is why I prefer tools such as DISC, Motivational Maps and Emotional Intelligence.

A common language is never intended to label people although this can easily happen. It is a misguided approach to use any framework by putting people into boxes and never letting them out – and it reveals a misunderstanding of their value. One strength is not better than another and we all have some aspect of both sides of each strength. For example, I am right-handed but it doesn’t mean that my left hand is of no use. I can do all sorts of things with my left hand (including typing), although when I try to write it is unintelligible. My ‘right-handedness’ is not better than someone else’s ‘left-handedness,’ it is just different.

A common language can save your team – and your leadership. Recently, I was coaching Mary who is the deputy principal in a large college. She described a staff situation which frustrated her no end. Steve would come into her office to report on an assignment and happily spend ages describing all of the research and detail whereas all she wanted was the results. She would usually stop him part way through and say, “the bottom line only please.” Mary has a strong outgoing personality in contrast to Steve who is reserved. Because of his make-up, he simply wants to demonstrate that he has done a thorough job which also gives him a sense of validation in his work. When Mary began to understand this personality and made the effort to listen to his detail, he left the meetings enthused and encouraged – it only took a few extra minutes to make an enormous impact on his morale. In DISC terms, Mary is a high ‘Dominant’/’Inspiring;’ Steve is a high ‘Cautious.’ Mary now has a vocabulary to understand how she could communicate with her staff more effectively. It is a common language we can all develop around personality, motivation, IQ and emotional intelligence to foster a supportive team environment. It can help us see others’ perspectives, including their intentions born out of their experiences, and the things that motivate and inspire them to succeed.


About Roger

Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.

Visit Roger’s website


GLS Mastermind Groups

Roger is developing Mastermind Groups for GLN Members and GLS attenders. Contact us for more details.


Life and Leadership

– is an interview series with leaders involved in the Global Leadership Network and the Global Leadership Summit. It takes inspiration primarily from The Guardian’s, ‘This Much I know,’ as well as interviews in Alpha Life, New Wine Magazine and others.
Interview by Will Salmon.