Opinion: The changing face of leadership in 2021
It is difficult to write a piece about leadership without succumbing to the temptation to ask ‘What is leadership, anyway?’. It’s hard to discuss it, unless we know what it is.
When I asked Google (the undisputed leader amongst sources of information) for a definition, it gave me 3 billion results. Interestingly, most were along the lines of ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organisation’, or ‘the state or position of being a leader’. In other words – leadership is what a leader does. Not all that helpful.
Others were more instructive: ‘the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal’, or from Harvard Business Review, the slightly unfeeling and 1970s-like ‘the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants’.
All well and good, yet something is still missing – and it is the ‘Why?’ of leadership. What’s the purpose of this thing we call leadership, and why do we even need it? Google only gave me 1.5 billion responses to that, and my own view is a fairly succinct one – the purpose of leadership is additionality.
Eyebrows may be raised at that, because we have acquired the habit of assuming we need a leader for everything (and I admit it looks a bit cryptic). Yet if we can do things without anyone being the leader, that’s how they should be done – no point in a superfluous position. It therefore follows that the purpose of leadership, first and foremost, must be to achieve a result that cannot be achieved any other way.
We should also recognise (bearing in mind the definitions above) that the ‘result’ isn’t a product of the leader’s efforts directly or solely. Towing a caravan or driving a long train of carriages isn’t leadership – it is direction and control. So, leadership involves achieving a result through the collegiate efforts of a group, team or organisation greater than the leader themselves.
And that brings us to the nub of things. People are not inanimate objects. People cannot – and should not – simply be told what to do. So, the ‘art of motivating… people… toward… a common goal’, as mentioned above, sounds just the ticket. Yet, whilst motivation is necessary, it is not sufficient.
To provide real additionality, leadership needs to contain all the elements we associate with human behaviour, and I think there are three: motivation, support and reward.
So, my definition for leadership is also succinct: To motivate and support people in the achievement of a common reward.
Note that the word ‘lead’ doesn’t appear. Nor does instruct, or direct, or tell – in fact the way in which the leadership is applied is almost disturbingly vague. And that’s deliberate, because the ‘How?’ of leadership defies any prediction – although of course that’s only my opinion.
What is The Institute of Leadership & Management?
Much more than a professional body, UK-based The Institute of Leadership & Management combines years of research, knowledge and innovation to champion the leadership agenda for all. Since 1947, the institute has carried out extensive research into the knowledge skills, attitudes, behaviours and values of great leadership and consistently use their expertise to raise standards and help others develop and grow.
They deliver world-class leadership tools and resources to help people and businesses unlock individual and business potential, and as a ‘charity’ can do so at competitive prices. Clients have included businesses such as Siemens Energy, British Telecom, Bluefin Insurance, institutions including Coventry and Durham universities, as well as other non-profit organisations including the RSPCA, Amnesty International and the EY Foundation.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.