René Carayol: “Collaboration is the new leadership”

Published:  21 June, 2016

As the final speaker of the event, leadership expert René Carayol spent the weekend of the NMBS Conference before he spoke talking with delegates and getting their views of the industry.

“I’ve met some fabulous leaders here, some really good managers, some fantastic experts and entrepreneurs,” he began, before explaining his belief that every business is stronger when you work as a collaborative team, rather than as people following a single leader. “Nothing is best done alone anymore. No matter what your size of business, more brains are always better than one. Markets are now too fast moving – you need the power of a team.”

Mr Carayol believes the businesses that win are those who are able to connect to and inspire every voice in their organisation. He highlighted David Fairhurst, who is chief people officer at McDonalds: “He’s not the HR director – he sees his role as steward of the culture. Anyone can copy your strategy or your brand, but nobody can copy your culture. It’s the one sustainable point of difference, and yet 87% of all businesses worldwide do nothing to look after their culture.”

According to Mr Fairhurst, leadership is about collaboration, and businesses need a two-way dialogue so that the ideas come upwards from their staff, because of the complexity and speed of the challenges that businesses face today.

This doesn’t take away the need for leadership, but Mr Carayol believes that it isn’t the leaders who sit at the top of an organisation, just the managers. And he warned that businesses often measure, cultivate and promote managers, but that everyone can be a leader if they choose to be.

For Mr Carayol, leadership is a mindset and, quite simply, the organisation with the most leaders wins.

There were three key points Mr Carayol said he wanted to get across to the delegates during his speech:

  • Your heritage will not be your destiny. The way you operate in the past may not hold you well in the future, but remember that not everything new is good, and not everything old is bad. The challenge is to work out what bits we should keep and which we change.
  • Try to manage a little less, and lead a little more. In these rapidly changing times, management alone won’t get you there. You have to lead as well.
  • Culture is more powerful than strategy. Without strategy, you’re sunk.

“If you want the perfect model of leadership, look at mothers at home,” he said. “They lead every minute of every day. They’re the role models, they’re setting boundaries, engaging and making tough calls every minute of every day. That’s real leadership.”

Management, he said, is about policing, auditing and checking. ‘Are my people doing the things they said they would do?’ It’s a blunt instrument, and no-one wants to be checked upon and measured every day. “It’s essential, but it’s a hard place to be working under. Management on its own will not give you the competitive advantage that will prevent you from failing.”

Instead, he advised to mix in management with leadership, which he described as: ‘vision, people, teams and culture’.

“My definition of management is: how you energise your people towards your vision, and inspire them to achieve more than the science of management says is possible,” he said. “When they say it can’t be done, get the leaders in and get people to believe.”

To explain why this matters, Mr Carayol highlighted a BBC programme he had been involved in called Business 2025, which aired in September 2010. The programme asked eight different chief executives across a number of industries to predict what their business would look like in 15 years. Two years later, the programme went back to those same chief executives to see how their predictions had faired, and every single one of them had been wrong.

“What they thought they could do in 15 years, every single one of them had done, and more, within just two,” he revealed. “Predicting the future is becoming ever more challenging. But you should never underestimate what you can actually achieve if you have the right focus, the right culture, the right people and the right leadership.”

Today, data can only give us 70% of the data we need to make decisions about the future. The rest is a collective judgement based on the voices of everyone in the organisation. And Mr Carayol believes that those closest to the customers are the ones who will usually know the solution.

With the pace of change in business continuing to increase, Mr Carayol believes there are three main drivers of this change:

  • Population growth and the democratic shift
  • Global power structures
  • Disruptive innovation – by far the biggest change.

“We have global overcapacity in every industry. No matter what the industry or the sector, we have too much of it,” he warned. “Too many suppliers, too many builders’ merchants and a glutt of everything. The answer is not to try and be the best, the answer is to try and be truly unique, special and different. Your culture, people and talent is how you can achieve this.”

Describing a company’s culture as ‘the way we get things done’ and, also, ‘what happens when the CEO leaves the room’, Mr Carayol then offered seven tips on how a business can change and make the most of its culture:

  • Hire people with the right attitude, then train their skills
  • Provide something for staff to believe in and belong to
  • Acknowledge staff efforts and successes
  • Nothing is ever achieved without enthusiasm, and that is always driven from the top of an organisation
  • Circumstances change, but values don’t. When it gets tough, don’t take it out on your people
  • Finished, beats perfect. You can’t afford the time it takes to be perfect on every point
  • Trust your people.

“People want to work for organisations whose values match theirs,” Mr Carayol concluded. “Leaders aren’t born or made, they’re found, and it’s not about rank or attitude – you have to find them and nurture them at every level of your business; only then will you win.”


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