Reviews Paul Robinson
By Constance Dierickx (Routledge)
It’s easy to lead when things are going well, but when risk and ambiguity are high, good leadership can be the difference between success and failure. In High-Stakes Leadership, Constance Dierickx uses 25 years’ experience working with leaders of global organisations to analyse leadership through an objective lens.
Dierickx, once a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch, has a PhD in clinical psychology and specialises in organisational crisis intervention. She has worked in 20-plus countries consulting with clients from start-ups to multinationals, including IBM, Westinghouse and AT&T.
A crisis, says Dierickx, forces people to focus. It brings clarity to objectives and direction. It becomes about survival, about minimising pain and discomfort, and eventually removing the risk and protecting reputation.
When a situation is changing rapidly, you don’t want erratic decision-making, misplaced overconfidence or a near-sighted focus on short-term gains to the exclusion of the bigger picture, she says.
In Dierickx’s experience, high-stakes leaders bring their teams to success by example. And they all possess three core characteristics – courage, judgement and fortitude.
Courage provides the energy and emotion to make a conscious decision, she says, but courage alone can lead to foolhardiness. It must be tempered by judgement.
Judgement directs that energy into strategic thinking, separating relevant information from the white noise of short-term trends. But then a leader has to stay the course. That requires fortitude – the resilience to stick to your guns despite surrounding chaos. Results won’t be immediate, but they won’t happen at all if you don’t stay on mission.
In addition, leaders must resist the temptation to make decisions based on habit, tradition or jumping on a reactive bandwagon, says Dierickx. The situations they face would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.
She cites Bart Becht as a leader with the courage to make difficult decisions. He became CEO of Reckitt Benckiser in 1995 after the merger of Dutch multinational Benckiser and the UK’s Reckitt Coleman. His challenge? To merge two operations and two cultures, corporate and ethnic.
From the start, Becht saw the group as one entity – a company without borders. Meetings were conducted in English and managers from one side of the merger were purposely moved to another territory, and then moved again. Importantly, Becht flicked the switch to swift decision-making, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Within two years of the Reckitt Benckiser merger its revenue had increased, acquisitions had been made, market share had grown and the share price doubled. Becht’s strategy and purpose was clear, something that Dierickx says is critical at a time of transition.
She also points to Jeff Bezos as an example of judgement and fortitude. Initially heavily criticised for investing in a company that was making no profit whatsoever, his steadfast commitment has seen Amazon become today’s logistics giant.
With the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic creating some of the most challenging times businesses have faced in the past 90 years, it’s time for high-stakes leaders to step up.
By Robert J Shiller (Princeton University Press – audiobook)
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller is adamant that economists would greatly enhance their science of interpreting economic events if they also looked at “narrative economics” – the public beliefs in those same events. Studying the narrative, he says, could improve their ability to predict, prepare for and mitigate economic crisis.
Shiller examines how the narrative – stories reported by word of mouth and news or social media – influence popular behaviour on where/when to invest/spend/save. That narrative can actually drive economic events, sometimes creating financial panic out of all proportion to the reality. He draws an analogy with a contagious disease, noting the phrase “going viral” first appeared about 2009 in connection with the internet.
To back up his argument, Shiller takes us on a tour of narratives that have taken root and influenced popular behaviour – automation will take your job, trade unions are communist, the wage-price spiral, boom and bust in the stock market, real estate and Bitcoin.
He notes the falling in and out of favour of economic models – Keynesian or neoliberal – and monetary systems such as the gold standard. He flags the late 20th-century narrative of the “efficient” free market, which sparked popular antipathy towards government regulation and prompted Ronald Reagan’s 1980s deregulation of the US financial industry, as the root cause of the 2008–09 global financial crisis.
It’s a thought-provoking journey through economic tumult that is perhaps more appropriate now than ever.
By John P Forsyth & Georg H Eifert (New Harbinger – also an audiobook)
We live in anxious times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Anxiety can be a survival tool, warning you that something is out of whack or even dangerous. It can be a reminder something is amiss or missing in your life, remind you that you have veered off course or give you a nudge to accomplish that goal you’ve been procrastinating about.
But when anxiety gets a hold on you it can be a debilitating and crippling houseguest. The natural reaction is to fight it, which can be almost as exhausting as the anxiety itself. A more effective strategy is to learn to let go of what is almost always an unsuccessful struggle against emotional pain.
The approach psychology professor John Forsyth and Georg Eifert recommend is based on research (some of it theirs) in emotion science, mindfulness-based interventions such as acceptance and commitment therapy, psychological wellness and positivity.
This guide offers a set of 52 tested strategies and short exercises to transform your relationship with anxiety and set you on a path of change and personal growth. If committed to, the authors say, these will remove the fear and create optimal conditions to regain peace of mind. And less to worry about has to be a good thing, right?
Tim Johnson (Bloomsbury)
How have leaders in the past responded to crises? Crisis management expert Tim Johnson offers insights into the life cycle of a crisis and the opportunities and threats it can present. He examines the lessons learned during challenging times, from the first signs of an emerging crisis to dealing with its long-term consequences.
By Marc Lesser (New World Library – also an audiobook)
Mindful leadership enables you to cope with the pace and complexity of change. It’s sometimes badged as one of the most crucial competencies in business today. Executive coach Marc Lesser, who helped establish the first Zen monastery in California, offers techniques and principles to eliminate self-doubt, build trust, support healthy collaboration, and enhance communication within a team.
By Alex Tapscott (Barlow)
Alex Tapscott draws together blockchain experts to offer their expertise on a broad range of blockchain subjects, from Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency to a new decentralised model of finance, which he maintains will leave traditional banks scrambling to avoid obsolescence.
James Kelley (Executives After Hours – audiobook)
James Kelley interviewed 140 executives across the globe to explore how adversity transformed them personally and professionally. His audiobook explores how to become an authentic leader with increased self-awareness and compassion for others.
Jill P Weber (Althea Press – audiobook)
Need to soothe your frayed edges? This audiobook offers evidence-based strategies to reduce anxiety on the spot and provide instant relief. Jill Weber discusses the psychology behind the techniques and why they control a range of symptoms in lots of different circumstances.
Matthew Green (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand)
What do you do if your company experiences a data breach? This CA ANZ seminar offers solutions and preventative measures you can put in place to reduce the risk of it happening.
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Audiobooks at the CA Library: check out the new CA Library audiobook offerings at charteredaccountantsanz.overdrive.com