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Summer issue

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Effective leadership strategies

by | Mar 13, 2024

Global HR expert Angus MacGregor shares insights into effective leadership practices, talent management strategies, and the challenges leaders face in nurturing talent and fostering diversity within large organisations and corporates.

Angus MacGregor

In his wide-ranging career, first as a lawyer and then as an HR legal executive, Angus MacGregor has experienced many different cultures, geographies and leadership styles. This wealth of experience has demonstrated to him the importance of leading with humility and empathy, particularly in the post-COVID era where employee well-being and individual focus are paramount.

“I work with the leadership of MUFG in Japan; I am on the board in Europe, and I have worked with a lot of CEOs, bankers, lawyers and supporting services and I have seen a lot of different leadership styles,” he says.

“One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to heading up an organisation. I have seen brilliant leadership which is leading with humility and empathy. That used to be thought of as “new school” but post COVID it is really the only approach.”

He says there has been a shift towards the employee becoming even more important within an organisation, having more choice and rights.

“As a consequence, a leader needs to be quite individual in their focus when dealing with their team,” he says. “People have become more demanding of their leaders.”

He sees leadership as a two-way relationship: making a personal connection with your team and understanding how they wish to be led.

“Finding out what leadership looks like for a set of people that you are leading is important,” he says. “Having a conversation and being open about what do you expect from me as your leader is not a weakness. It is about treating your employee like a customer and client. That is not weak leadership- it is supportive, builds followship and empowers your team.”

Delegating appropriately to the right people and building great teams is important, he says, but always remember that as a leader you are accountable and responsible. This requires you to really understand the market and the culture, but also to make some tough decisions.

“Your job is to make decisions. You can’t please everybody all the time. You take you all of the inputs, you listen very carefully asking really good questions about people’s thoughts and feelings. This might feel as though you are breaking some boundaries, so you have to be careful, but if you don’t have some form of personal connection, I think you don’t lead as well.

“It’s a fine line and your judgement has to be really good, so as a leader you have to work on your judgement skills. You don’t get always get it right, and in the end you have got to make decisions and stick with it. People want consistency, and they want decisive leadership.”

 

How to build effective teams

In terms of talent management, he emphasises the importance of picking and developing the right teams and for leaders to create teams which are diverse and inclusive.

“The perfect team is an eclectic, inclusive and diverse team,” he says. “Leaders have to value inclusivity and diversity, and in its broadest sense, diversity of thought. In order to get that you need different demographics and that is a challenges to recruit right across all the spheres of diversity. It is also about getting the balance right between long tenure members of staff and new people with different experiences.

“Leaders need to have to have relationships with groups of people who are much younger,” he says.” The voice of the youth is very different from what it was 25 years ago.”

If you are a recruiting for a global key position, the cultural fit and values have to chime with the vision of the organisation.

“If you were to hire someone who is very capable, can make a lot of money but doesn’t have the right fit with the firm then that can become very toxic. Other staff members might feel resentful and undervalued and that can be disruptive to the coherence of the team.”

Diversity of thought in leadership teams leads to better results and creativity and ultimately is beneficial to the bottom line in an organisation, he says.

“It’s been proven that diverse leadership teams are more productive, more capable and more creative. If I have teams work for me then I will try to pick as diverse a group as possible. I just like the interaction and the different thinking.

“I try to value everybody’s contribution and get everybody to speak up. That way you get more ideas on the table and it gives a leader more options. Instead of a binary decision, a leader might garner six or seven good options through this process.”

What motivates people in organisations?

People still want to be paid well and fairly for their efforts at work, but they also look to organisations to provide more. A key priority is career path development, the ability to build skills, an attractive workplace community and a digitally advanced culture.

Also near the top of people’s requirements is for an organisation to be clear about its Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) goals, he says.

“When I first started my working life, the contract with employees was much simpler: come in, work long hours and fulfil your role. It is now very much more demanding to meet the needs of talent because people have options anc the best people can and do leave. There is a skills shortage and aside from pay, it is about trying to create an environment of psychological safety. You are looking to provide care for your employee in terms of their wellbeing, career, finances and health.”

The importance of Continuous Performance Management

Angus advocates for continuous performance management, focusing on past performance, future goals, and individual development plans, using coaching skills to provide feedback effectively.

“It is about continuously monitoring and providing feedback, so that when you do have a more formal meeting you can divide your time between past performance, personal development and future plans.

“The “old school” approach was to have a performance management meeting annually and spend 90% of it on past performance, neglecting development and career progression.”

Instead, he argues for real-time feedback which helps employees understand what is required of them and how they can improve.

“You have got to give some feedback and you have got to do it pretty quickly,” he says. “It is important to establish a culture where you are able to give feedback regularly and it is not taken badly. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, but it takes a while to build up the relationship and the trust needed to give and receive that feedback.

“Sometimes you recruit talented junior people who have come out of good universities and have never received negative feedback or failed an essay. It can be hard for them to be told that they didn’t perform well on a task.”

To do this as a leader, he advocates learning coaching skills and developing your ability to listen, so that you can create personal relationships of trust with your team.

He identifies two key skills which can make a real and tangible difference to your leadership:

  • Focus: As a leader, when you are talking to someone ensure that your focus is entirely on them.

“The ability to switch off from other problems and distractions and turn on active listening, is a valuable skill. This way, the team member really feels heard, but you as a leader are able to get to the heart of what the problem is and come up with an appropriate and meaningful solution.

“That is incredible in a in a leadership situation because I have had a lot of experiences with leaders where I’ve tried to come to them with something that’s urgent and they’re too busy, and you get fobbed off. To be able to give somebody that focussed attention is quite rare and remarkable,” he says.

  • Decisiveness: If you have something on your “to do” list, make sure you action it if it is important or urgent.

Don’t delay making a decision because it is difficult or the consequences are uncomfortable,” he says. “The best leaders recognise the importance of making decisions and getting things done.”

 

About Angus

Angus is Head of Global HR at MUFG Bank, International Head of HR MUFG Securities and was Interim CHRO in APAC, based in Tokyo, Japan. His previous roles at MUFG were Deputy General Manager Human Resources GHR and International Head of HR for Securities business. He worked on accelerating the global integration of the MUFG businesses with HR, business and support function leaders.

He was Group HR Director at Eversheds Sutherland in London and Global Head of HR at Deutsche Bank. He held senior roles at Barclays Bank, including group head of HR legal, HR director for the group centre and HR director for Barclays Global Commercial Bank. As chief of staff to Barclays Group HR director, with group responsibility for employee relations and health and safety, he had a leading role in a number of major group-wide projects. He is also a qualified lawyer.

Angus will be leading sessions on Thurs 18 April: Applying New Ideas in Practice at Turbocharging Performance conference.