Andrew Spence: Look inward to lead

Andrew Spence

By

02/02/2018

OPINION | In late 2017, I was fortunate to attend the Achieving Leadership Excellence course at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), which provided an opportunity to develop my personal leadership capacity and style, and continue building a global perspective.

This was thanks to the Fund Executives Association Ltd (FEAL) awarding me the 2017 London School of Economics Executive Education Scholarship.

LSE’s focus on academic research, self-reflection and multi-level feedback proved to be an excellent complement to my leadership studies over the last couple of years via US-based institutions Cornell University and Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.

LSE’s course helps participants understand effective leadership. Simply stated, the new leadership paradigm revolves around fostering a positive environment where people can work productively.

This requires leaders to take the time to look inwards. A decade ago, an article published in the Harvard Business Review titled “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership”, by Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew N. McLean and Diana Mayer, summed it up nicely: “We all have the capacity to inspire and empower others. But we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our personal growth and development as leaders.”

Grounded in humility

In the context of a contemporary knowledge-based working environment such as the superannuation industry, leaders need to exert influence grounded in positive values and personal humility. Relying on the blunt instruments of formal authority and title-based hierarchy is neither a sustainable nor a winning strategy.

Collaboration, empowerment, and a higher ethical purpose are the cultural attributes effective leaders need to engender if they are to develop and motivate their employees to go beyond self-interest and work towards collective goals. Leaders must display behavioural integrity if they are to inspire. Building trust and respect requires an ability to act with integrity and consistently demonstrate high moral standards and values. Doing the right thing should always be a ‘non-negotiable’.

Ethics and diversity

The gap in ethics within many organisational structures proved a most important topic of discussion at LSE, within both the formal agenda and the break-out sessions.

The ethics issue may be explored on both an individual and a collective level. Shifts in stakeholder expectations have made it necessary for an organisation to function as an exemplar of ethical purpose to maintain its social licence to operate.

The burden of proof continues to increase as community and stakeholder expectations grow, fuelled by the transparency of social media. The Australian superannuation industry, as custodian of other people’s money, is not immune from this dynamic.

Diversity was another big topic, given its importance in encouraging innovative thinking and enhancing the quality of collaboration and decision-making. Diversity can be intrinsic (or cognitive), based on diversity in thinking styles, experiences, and processes. It can also be extrinsic (or surface level), based on more easily measureable metrics such as gender, race and age.

Effective leaders have a responsibility to identify, challenge and address unconscious bias by ensuring that diversity, inclusion and tolerance are fully embraced in the workplace.

Leadership is intricately aligned with anticipating and embracing change – cognitively, culturally and strategically – while inspiring those around us to go the extra mile. The impacts of technological disruption, globalisation and increased competition make this pursuit more challenging. It is perhaps the rate and erratic nature of change that reinforces the imperative and value of leadership if an organisation is to survive and prosper.

In summary, I greatly valued the encouragement towards personal and professional growth I received from attending LSE’s course, an opportunity that my employer, Qantas Super, fully supported. The experience was enhanced by the excellent lecturers and the real-world experiences the other 29 participants shared. I am deeply grateful to FEAL for awarding me the 2017 London School of Economics Executive Education Scholarship.

Andrew Spence is the chief investment officer at Qantas Super.  Applications for the 2018 FEAL London School of Economics Executive Education Courses Scholarship close on February 9. Apply online