Interview Transcript

In this specific situation of coming into a new environment, as a leader, it looks as if the inner characteristics that you relied on, were really an ability to listen, a degree of humility in the face of the unknown and an ability to actually trust your team?

Absolutely. I’ve shared some of the literature that I’ve learned, read, taught, studied, over the 30 years or so of my career, since the early nineties. One of those books was The First 90 Days. You’ve joined a new business, you’ve got a new job, you’re in a different function. What processes can you put in place, what questions do you need to ask? Are you facing a turnaround scenario? Are you facing a, we’re doing really, really well and we just need to continue, situation? What is the situation? Who are you dealing with? I literally took my team, the guys that were in the defense business already, and took them through that process. It was quite painful for some of them, because they kept saying, hang on a minute, we’re doing really well here. We’re the most profitable function in the business, we’ve got 250 million turnover, with an 8% EBIT, why are you asking us all these questions?

I said, well, firstly, maybe you’re going to learn some more and, secondly, I’m learning, because I’ve got to lead. Then, of course, we had the asbestos issue. Then we had the Buckingham Palace guardrooms issue. All of a sudden, a few pennies started to drop with those guys. It’s important to have frameworks and tools that you can quickly access and you understand and you can articulate to others, because they are the way you think; they’re a habit.

Habit, for me, is the intersection of three things. It’s the attitude – do I want to be able to learn to do this? Do I have the knowledge and do I have the skill? With anything, if you can develop those three things, then you have the habits. Habits form; bad habits form and, hopefully, good habits form. They become the process by which you assess the situation, hopefully ahead of time. But let’s face it, shit happens. It’s how you recover from it and the situation that replaces it and the processes that are in place to make sure that it doesn’t become destabilizing or the business going into complete meltdown, which is a question of risk management and judgment, which comes from habits and comes from experience.

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