Defining leadership is as difficult today as it always has been - leaders come in many different forms, and the qualities associated with great generals, dignitaries, and directors are multitude and more to the point, subjective. For those seeking illumination, there's an abundance of management literature, advice, and case studies out there. However, there are certain traits and qualities that have served me well in my thirty-year career at DHL Express.
In my role as CEO, I'd describe myself as a 'respect' focused leader- someone who instils a culture of 'respect and results' in others, respect for employees and the customer that results in the end goal of business results. It means I strive to empower and enable the people I lead to fulfil their goals, reach their potential and ultimately make the right things happen within the business.
I believe, fundamentally, that leadership isn't about me. I regard myself as serving those around me, which may sound counter-intuitive for a CEO but I firmly believe that people are the most important aspect of the DHL Express business; I see a direct correlation between customer satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately business growth and a highly motivated workforce.
So it was with a sense of anticipation that I agreed to take part on the national television programme on Channel 4, "Undercover Boss." I wondered whether the reality of the front line would match up to my perceptions of the business. By going on the programme, I was able to gain firsthand access to my employees working at the very coalface of the business; in the warehouses, trucks and loading bays. I'll admit, I was faced with some inconvenient truths and was forced to deal with challenges that I hadn't previously been aware of.
But a good leader is someone who can open their eyes to problems, find resolutions and has a willingness to change and adapt for the good of their staff and business. It can be easy to bury your head in the sand and prioritise turnover at the expense of the people, but by dealing with problems head on you can be sure that your business will benefit in the long term. After the programme, I set out to resolve some of the issues which were highlighted and for the most part, I believe that I've achieved this.
Leaders get to where they are through a mixture of experience, exposure to different commercial environments, hard work, trial and error, good luck and the right mindset. There is no exact formula to being a great leader but by putting people at the heart of everything you do, I think that you're half way there.
I've recently had the privilege of being nominated for Leader of the Year at the National Business Awards. I feel humbled to have been nominated by my employees and peers, and to be competing alongside some very dynamic CEOs, whose work I hugely admire. May the best leader win!