Leaders can transform their organisation by changing individuals, starting with themselves
It was the 88th minute in the third game of the 2018 World Cup and Spain, defending a slender 3-2 lead and a late onslaught from Portugal’s attackers, had just conceded a free kick in a dangerous position.
In what became one of the most memorable images of the tournament, Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo pulled his shorts up tight before arrowing the ball into the top corner.
For James Farrow, director of Birmingham-based change consultancy Curium Solutions, it is a great example for leaders to follow.
“What are his options for the free-kick?” he asked. “He can shoot – with several possible targets – he could cross it, he could use a move they have planned.
“If it was me or you, we’d probably kick it as hard as we can and hope that it goes somewhere near the goal.
“Why don’t we have those options? It’s because he had practised those skills so he has the options when he needs them.
“It’s the same for leaders. Take, for example, resilience – can I respond brilliantly or do I respond emotionally? Then do I keep control? The whole ‘keep my head while all around are losing theirs’.”
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Farrow is certain leadership skills can be nurtured and developed – “Are they born or made? Well, there are organisations, like the military, which produce them all of the time,” he said – but equally leaders can get stuck on their own development journey and not reach the heights they are able to.
“I love the quote ‘talent is a gift, greatness is a choice’,” he said. “This is where you get some leaders who are good at some things but they never really sharpen the saw and they don’t become great leaders.”
Farrow created Curium with his twin brother Adam and fellow director Andy Dawson 10 years ago, and the business has accelerated its development in the last couple of years.
Its success has been recognised by winning awards, including TheBusinessDesk.com’s Business Masters in 2017 and the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce business of the year award this year.
The leadership trio are very focused on practising what they preach and creating the right culture in their own business. That includes bringing the whole business together for two days before the start of the financial year to plan and share, as well as taking one day a month to get everyone together.
Farrow said: “If you think about leadership, a lot of people think it is about followership. It has become less about followership and much more about collective intelligence, ‘how do I get much more out of this group of people to move forward?’.
“It is now much more about influence and empowering potential.”
Being able to empower others is rooted in a key difference in approach.
“There’s a huge difference between managing and leading,” said Farrow. “Most organisations have bosses and managers but they don’t breed leaders. It’s like they don’t know how to.
“Leadership gaps show up everywhere, from your results to whether projects get delivered on time.”
For those organisations which aren’t on the right path, it can seem too hard to know where to begin to change. But for Farrow it is a simple step.
“An organisation is made up of individuals and teams so when an organisation doesn’t have leadership, it sounds too hard to change,” he said.
“But if you change an individual and a team, and do that enough times, you change the organisation.”