I’m an inspirational leader – so p@ss *ff!

What makes an inspiring boss?

July 10, 2014

I have never read an IC textbook.

It may be my background as a journalist, but I have an inherent distaste for received wisdom and prefer to learn from intuition and experience.

But if I did read a textbook, I am sure it would steer well clear of recommending that a good way to motivate staff was to tell them to “piss off”.

I am pretty sure the textbook would say that you should treat people with integrity and respect, and that the role of a leader is to provide strong strategic narrative, illuminated with a ray of personal insight that makes you appear accessible and human.

It would probably refer to tone of voice and consistent messaging, and walking the talk, and using plain English and language relevant to the audience.

But, and I know assumptions can be dangerous, I am almost 100% certain that “piss off” would not feature in any formal lexicon of modern internal communication.

Particularly when the “piss off” is screamed loudly and publicly by a large CEO, at an embarrassed young team member who has just been hauled into his office for a disciplinary.

Yet it is a fact of real life that big Welshman Nev Wilshire, owner and leader of BBC3’s fly-on-the-wall show The Call Centre, has just taken his company to number five in the UK’s Best 100 Companies league.

Save Britain Money Group employs 488 staff, turns over £51m, and as a “best place to work” ranks streets ahead of the likes of BMW and Adobe Systems.

It is praised for “extraordinary focus on workplace engagement”. Eight out of ten staff say their managers are excellent role models – the fourth highest in Britain. And a remarkable 86% say Nev is an “inspirational leader”.

So. Tear up the textbook? Is “piss off” the new mantra for engaging leadership?

Quite possibly.

Because there may be a serious lesson here.

Without wanting to endorse any other aspect of Jeremy Clarkson or Nigel Farage, they share common ground with Nev. It is their apparent ability to shoot from the hip with roguish disrespect for correctness or convention.

They are seen a loveable mavericks, with grit and humour, who stand out from the crowd. And in a dull and sanitised world people like that and follow them because they offer something fresh, honest and different.

So if Nev is popular and his company is successful – and his engagement levels are blazing through the stratosphere – why aren’t more bosses like him?

Shouldn’t he be running Marks & Spencer or RBS? Or helping poor old Blackberry turn things around?

It isn’t that simple. Nev runs the show so he does what he wants and nobody holds him to account for his managerial etiquette. He can push the boundaries and if he oversteps the mark, within reason he’ll get away with it.

But big business, and its IC departments, take note.

Because when you’re running a team, however global and enormous, the power of personal leadership style – and the way it is represented – can never be under estimated.

And while Nev’s approach may be unorthodox by current standards, it appears to work.

The fact is this: It is often in smaller businesses that the best things get invented.

Because big business is too busy following the textbook to dare to be different.