Every now and then I meet a leader that comes across as truly authentic with a healthy confidence. Ian Donald, the newly appointed CEO of Nestle SA is such a leader. We had a conversation with him and our panel on Cliffcentral Leadership Platform earlier this week. He has lead in Philippines, Nestle Ice Cream SA, Pakistan together with war torn Afghanistan and East Africa that includes 21 countries. And now he is back in South Africa to create movement in his motherland.
Confidence is “trusting processes that work”, and this is the same for leadership. To be a confident leader one must learn to trust leadership processes that work, which presupposes doing it over and over.
Authentic and confident leaders have a track record of having created successful movement over and over. Donald has done this in several diverse geographical locations, which is part of why he projects confidence. In fact, because of this track record his reputation and respect for him, precedes him.
The mere announcement that he is coming to a country, division or branch triggers movement, action and people anticipating what he wants or expects of them. This is a powerful position to be in, which is part and parcel of an authentic and confident leader. Unfortunately, in a world of “immediacy” where leaders want career progression now and where movement from one position to the next happens fast, together with overall societal change that happens at break neck pace, these kinds of leaders may become rarer.
Authentic and confident leaders possess the courage to make themselves vulnerable, probably because they have learnt to manage or destruct their ego. They really believe that they are still learning; they admit when they don’t know something or when they have made a mistake; while it may not be easy, they accept when others point to their incongruent behaviour; and they are comfortable with engaging staff on all levels. Donald says: “I’m now sixty three but still believe in this principle of learning all the time. I am conscious of what I learn. So going to Pakistan for example, I hope I made a contribution, but boy did I learn, and did I grow as an individual.” And he adds: “I find the biggest journey I have been on all my life is knowing myself. And that’s still the journey I am on most.” This attitude manifests in his every day behaviour, like walking around, wanting to connect with the people. Alan Hosking Editor HR Future Magazine was adamant that if leaders could just “check their egos at the door”, the world would be a better place. He felt “we need to evolve past that.”
Authentic and confident leaders buy into the truth that human beings are driven by deep rooted values, and so they fanatically drive values inside their business, while striving to remain true to their own. They work with the big picture of matching individual needs and values with the organisations and even broader society. As Donald comments: “It comes back to values all the time – the importance of respect, and the importance of understanding other people, other cultures.” He has had to apologise because a staff member challenged his behaviour as being incongruent with values.
Authentic and confident leaders achieve greatness because they usually care relatively little about what others think of them. They are driven by what is right, rather than by how others perceive them. They don’t act for approval but for successful movement, what the particular situation requires. Because of a tamed ego they don’t just change things around them for the sake of changing. They move in, listen and do what needs to be done. If the situation requires radical change, they do it. If the situation requires them to merely build on what has been achieved, they make this happen as well. Leon Steyn, HR Executive TMS Group shared what he heard years ago: “Never miss an opportunity to shut up. Sometimes you have to first sit and listen and then build on whatever your predecessors built.”
When Donald moved into Pakistan he didn’t just change everything. At the time he commented: “The correct approach in a business that did not require turnaround but merely wasn’t living up to its full potential was not to change everything. In fact, coming in and changing everything, especially as an expat, sends out a clear message that what was done up until then was not respected.” He was conscious of showing appreciation for the past and building on it.
Authentic and confident leaders understand that all of the above and more are important, but none of it matters if the business isn’t profitable and sustainable. “You can’t get away from the fact that at the base of it all is to create a sustainable, long term, growing, profitable business. Otherwise you can’t do anything; it all falls apart”, explains Donald.
At Nestle they speak of “shared value rather than social responsibility.” They feel that to survive in a long term sustainable way they have to add value all the way through the value chain, from beginning to end – from the farmer that provides raw material to the end consumer. Everyone in the value chain must be successful, and then follows the responsibility to add value to broader societal issues like gas emissions, water pollution and so on, which Nestle is very involved with.
Clem Sunter joined our conversation and stated that “the future changes every day. There is so much happening around you that is unexpected and beyond your control. Please be prepared to adapt.” He shared important trends and flags leaders should be aware of. One was the emergence of Ebola. Donald confirmed Sunter’s comments: “Watching the scenery and keeping yourself aware is very critical.” The Ebola issue is already impacting their business on cocoa supplies for chocolate. “You have got to be aware and cannot be fixed in a vision and direction blindly,” says Donald.
And so, an authentic and confident leader is very aware of the big picture and uses this to create meaning, purpose. Louis Groenewald explained that “all perceived meaning is contextual, which means the greater a leaders context of the big picture the greater the meaning.”
Nestle SA has not grown satisfactorily over the last couple of years. Donald is the man to make this happen, while simply being himself – authentic and confident, and then ensuring he surrounds himself with equally authentic and confident leaders.
Listen to the podcast of Adriaan’s conversation with Ian Donald on www.cliffcentral.com, under Leadership Platform podcasts.
Adriaan Groenewald (@Adriaan_LP) – MD and co-founder Leadership Platform; leadership author and advisor; presenter of Leadership Platform on Cliffcentral.com every Monday 12-1pm (@LeadershipPform)