Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Leadership Lessons From Bob Diamond

I've been thinking about leadership quite a bit this week - it's perhaps inevitable given the press coverage of Barclays. I should point out that I'm writing this before what I think is going to be an explosive Select Committee appearance from Bob Diamond on Wednesday afternoon (watch it live here). As Twitter is already suggesting, "massive bank account, no job to lose and a thirst for vengeance" could lead to nuclear-level revelations (which certainly seems to be the case if Diamond's daughter's Twitter account is genuine).  All of us who are privileged to lead dread the "no way out" problem Diamond faced. If he knew what was going on inside his bank he was complicit and a rogue; if he didn't he should have done and was a fool .

I'm sure that leadership in a technically complex, multi-national organisation like a bank is much harder than in any of the UK's housing associations; that's why they get paid so much more money than even the most highly paid CEO in our part of the industry. That's also, presumably, why the opprobrium over those salary packages is only heard from government ministers when things go so blatantly wrong, rather than for housing associations where the sniping about CEO salaries is indiscriminately applied to successful and unsuccessful alike. Anyone else remember A4E? And is there a common thread of greed here?

Greed is absolutely not what I think leadership is about. I've referred before to our Apprentice programme before and it's started this week. So we've got 10 budding Apprentices all eager and keen in our offices hoping to be one of the five youngsters we appoint to formal apprenticeships with us. They interviewed me today, perceptive and probing in their questions, one of which was about salaries. They were astounded when I told them that as CEO I got the same pay-rise as my staff; yet another example of our sector not getting its story out - because that's just what we do, isn't it?

So what does drive leadership in our sector? What makes for the best housing CEOs? There was an interesting Guardian Housing Network webinar this week where housing association CEOs discussed this very issue. The striking thing for me was just how much common ground there was between us that it was people and places that mattered to our sector's leaders, not profit. This was exactly the USP for our sector I had set out last week when arguing at the UN for the unique place of social housing in Real Estate Markets.

So as I dwell on just how much more I can learn from my peers - and for however long we've been doing it, we are still learning the job - I also wonder whether there might just be a few parts of the discredited capitalist world that could learn from our people-centred, customer-focused, values-driven leadership. Still, I'd be pretty sure it won't be one of us who get that call from Marcus Agius!

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