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Be Specific About Ends And Allow Discretion About Means

The What And The How Of Leadership

Be clear about the ends – the what

The leader’s task is to provide clear, persistent statements of the direction, goals and values of the firm and the team.

Allow discretion about the means – the how

The leader’s task is to empower professionals and support people in the team on implementation and action. This involves:

developing more and better skills so that they can handle more responsibility;

getting everyone to contribute their ideas;

giving people more discretion rather than less;

fostering a climate of trust that is built on openness and honesty.

Studies of effective leaders are remarkably consistent. Good leaders are specific about ‘ends’ and allow discretion about ‘means’; this notion is illustrated in the box ‘The what and the how of leadership’.

At international business advisory services firm Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, team leaders are clear about the ends and allow discretion about the means. Partners Richard Collier-Keywood, David Law, Chris Lucas and Richard Sexton describe their approaches to this aspect of leadership.

Richard Collier-Keywood says:

I get ideas from my colleagues and then paint the vision of where we need to get to. It is my job then to sell the vision to the team. I really have to believe in it otherwise I can’t sell it. Team members have plenty of freedom then to work out how to achieve the goals. My job at this stage is to support implementation and check performance at intervals – milestones – to ensure that we are on track.

In a similar vein David Law observes:

My colleagues contribute their thinking to the business plan. I coordinate the ideas and publish a short document on our vision and values, aspirations and performance targets. I talk to everybody about this. People are then free to get on with the job as they wish as long as they follow some basic disciplines like completing the time sheets and so long as they don’t betray trust. It’s my job to create the right environment. If I do that well then, with professional people, everything else should follow.

Chris Lucas describes the approach in this way:

It’s my job to paint a picture of the direction for the business including collective and individual actions and projects. I need to draft or colour our team’s vision having listened to what my colleagues have to say and having taken account of the overall objectives of PricewaterhouseCoopers UK. I then sell the vision back to the team. There is regular reinforcement. I keep plugging away at the message at meetings, one to one and in performance appraisals. People then get on with the job. There is no micromanagement but I do monitor to make sure that the projects are coming in on time, that the billing is timely and that the cash is collected.

Richard Sexton says:

I mustn’t try to do people’s jobs. Our people are highly talented professionals. I see it as my task to set the tone, get the environment right and point the business in the right direction. I have to give leadership on what needs to be done and on the way we should behave towards clients and colleagues. I have to interpret the PricewaterhouseCoopers corporate vision for the local level, take account of the thinking of my team colleagues and then create our own vision and goals. I then bang the drum about these things in meetings and with individuals. Accountants are very analytical and critical. They are good at telling people what won’t work. I see my job as mainly getting our team members into a ‘can do’ mood. So I talk about our goals in a confident and energetic way to keep people enthused and to keep spirits up. When it comes to turning the goals into action, then my colleagues are completely empowered. It is not for me to interfere other than to monitor progress or to deal with a breakdown of trust. But fortunately that is rare.