The art of leading from behind

Finding out what makes people tick is the key to motivation, writes Roger Trapp
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The Independent Online
ADRIAN Gilpin's recent book, Unstoppable People, joins a burgeoning band of books born out of their authors' personal crises. But once Mr Gilpin gets beyond his own journey from financial ruin to new career he has serious point to make about how "ordinary people achieve extraordinary things".

Gilpin, who now helps many well-known companies through his organization the Institute of Human Development, focuses on the importance of understanding "how people tick". This is particularly true for those who aspire to be leaders.

The author, who gave the closing presentation on "Leading Unstoppable teams in an Age of Change and Uncertainty" at last week's Human Resources Excellence Conference in London, points out there are two ways of leading - command and control, where "we expect others to join us at our map of the world, do it as we do it and see things from our point of the view"; and pacing and leading, where "we enter someone else's map of the world, where we value and respect their perspectives, create rapport, build trust and then move them imperceptibly towards another way of seeing things".

The general view is that the former is outmoded. What the current times demand is what he terms "servant leaders" - those who see their leadership role as "a way of serving the needs of others in order to attract willing volunteers on to one's own pathway to achievement and success".

The idea is broadly similar to the concept of "relational leadership" being developed by the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina, to explain the phenomenon whereby political leaders reflect their circumstances. It is about realising there is not a magic group of people - an officer class - that has a monopoly of wisdom and leadership skills.

Just as he believes that those that see leadership more in terms of serving others rather than self-serving tend to be most successful, so the best- performing organizations are those that value the contribution of employees.

"It has become fashionable," he says, "to write vision and mission statements and announce these to staff. Dynamic organizations allow their mission and purpose to emerge out of the collective contributions of all key players. You can tell when the vision is merely printed on an A4 sheet and framed on the wall next to the reception desk, and when it is embedded in the hearts and minds of every employee and supplier."

In his book Values, Beliefs and the Language of Excellence, he describes how Julian Richer of the highly-successful hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds puts a huge premium on customer service and values.

"Every page of Richer's recent book The Richer Way explodes with value- centred statements. Every business process described in that book is rooted in Richer's key values," he writes.

Though such attributes are not as commonplace as they should be in business, most people would agree that they are a feature of Virgin Our Price, the company named overall winner in the Human Resources Excellence awards held at the conference and organized by "Human Resources" magazine in association with Cranfield School of Management and BUPA.

In the words of Cranfield's Shaun Tyson, who chaired the judges, it was a "people business" where the company's human resources policy was geared to "making the organization flexible, fluid and entrepreneurial in an innovative and highly effective way".

Unstoppable People, by Adrian Gilpin, is published by Century Business Books (pounds 8.99).