It’s been an amazing couple of weeks since I joined a ‘working out loud’ circle set up by Moyra Mackie . Insights like ‘getting stuck is good’ and recognizing the ‘tension between money and meaning’ were like revelations.
Here Moyra’s post on our experience so far
Reflections on Working Out Loud:
“It’s as if we’re teenage boys who want to ask a girl for a dance. There are no guarantees she’ll say “yes” but we won’t know unless we try…”
So began our check in on Week Two in my Working Out Loud Circle.
It seems that we might not have been teens at the school disco this past couple of weeks, but we’ve certainly been dancing with our inner critic to the tunes of vulnerability and risk.
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, a Working Out Loud Circle is a guided, structured process developed by John Stepper. It’s a peer support group of four or five people which meets for an hour a week for 12 weeks to address these questions:
What am I trying to do?
Who is related to my goal?
How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?
The Islamic finance conference circuit has finally woken up to realise that organizational growth comes about through a focus on Human Capital and Talent Development. Better late than never. Yet one wonders if it is a bit too late in coming.
The Islamic finance education sector is highly fragmented. On one hand there is a plethora of established universities globally offering academic qualifications. On the other, there are a multitude of commercial education service providers delivering various professional qualifications. Global recognition of these qualifications is an output of how best an institution can show compliance of individual standards as required by countries. Increasing programme fees, cost of living, increasing preference of digital or e-learning and uncertain economic conditions are impacting quite heavily on the usual business model employed by the education service providers.
On the other side the industry has been acutely focused in the technical aspects of growing itself and trying to position itself as an alternative financial framework. Regulatory and product developments have primarily been the key areas of focus over the past decade. Other key areas of research, soft skills and talent development have not been on their radar.
The impact of this, on the education sector, is a massive one.
Industry prefers to bring on board talent that has work experience and globally recognized qualifications. This has resulted in academic programmes and its co-related research being classified as theoretical and not providing the necessary skill-sets that the industry requires.
Couple this with the behavioural changes that has occurred, due to technological adoption and usage and economic conditions, and one finds the overall Islamic finance industry a bit out of touch with reality. Costs have brought about a demand for shorter and shorter programmes. The tech world has seen a huge rise in this area. One example is the nanodegree. Support from the Islamic finance industry in recruiting required talent on campus, by virtue of having a clear talent need and development plan that’s based on business strategy, has been sporadic and is based on regional relationships between academic institutions and industry organizations. Development of academic programmes based on data and cases from the industry are far and few. These are available as short-courses or executive programmes few of which have clear CPD (Continuous Professional Development) points and benefits linked to it.
Simultaneously the education sector is seeing significant changes with regards to programme content, delivery and accessibility. Globally ranked academic institutions have taken their general product offering to where the market is and have created business models that provide operational viability. The Islamic finance education sector, on the other hand like its industry counterpart, seems to look at hegemony as key. Staying rooted to theoretical education content across regions.
In a world where collaborative economy and disruption are now constants, such hegemony type of approach is akin to shooting down a dinosaur with a pea gun!
Where is the Islamic finance education today?
Looking at all the talk, in public domain and the chatter in the conference circuit, one would have to surmise that the sector is, indeed, in a stall. Whilst a lot of great advice is being offered, everyone everywhere, across is the industry is waiting for some else to pick up the leadership and the associated risks. The impact is dropping rates of academic and private programme applications and lack of jobs for qualified graduates along with dearth of innovation and creativity in the industry.
Going forward the Islamic finance industry has to decide if it wants to play in the global stage or otherwise. If it’s the latter, it is a must that the industry invest in the education sector in order to develop knowledge, skills, innovation and talent as it will require in the coming decade.
Often leaders are in a tough situation and faced with tough choices.
A key role of a leader is to make decisions. In other words exercise their choice based on evaluating all the facts available to them and factoring in the impact of that choice on the long-term strategy. Whilst many are able to have that line-of-sight often times there is a knee-jerk reaction.
This reaction comes about from the individual leader’s behaviour. A leader’s daily habit is formed through the behaviour expressed. Unknowingly many a leader displays leadership traits that set the cultural tone through behaviour. If the leader is in survival mode—fear & flight—then choice comes across in behaviour as one that ensures self-preservation. What that means is that there is indecisiveness and inordinate delays on critical decisions. On the other hand if the leader has strong engagement, both at the C level and operational levels, then choice exercised would be expressed as a best-case scenario based one.
As leaders how can we ensure our behaviour matches what we say?
As the saying goes—lead by example. There’s no better way than to set an example, by doing what you want others to do. What this means is that one has to get one’s hands dirty but getting into execution and influencing the desired output. This sends a very strong message to all in terms of culture and expected behaviour.
This is more so important in the Asian context where employees behave as they see their bosses do.
As leaders how can we get the engagement?
Getting employee engagement is hard. Not impossible but hard. You can’t make all the people happy all the time. You can make some people happy some of the time. So it is with getting employees to be engaged.
As a leader it’s critical to have an open door relationship with your operational leadership team and actually practice it. If the operational leadership team has to always make an appointment to discuss an issue or an idea, then it’s not open door. On the contrary, the message communicated is that the leader of theorganization is not interested.
The impact of such behaviour affects choices greatly.
Lack of regular interaction and access to the C suite leadership coupled with lack of ownership within the C suite, of critical organizational initiatives, leads to:
Lack of morale
Lowering of trust (in the leadership)
Questioning the time, energy & effort (spent) on critical initiatives
Ending in the organization losing the operational leaders and losing its way.
Is your organization showing any of these?
If yes, it’s time to have a very open, no-holds barred, heart-to-heart chat with the concerned leaders and to put the facts on the table for the leadership to imbibe, evaluate and choose wisely for the long-term benefit of the organization.
Her article made me think of the importance and impact leadership has on an organization’s purpose—its’ very reason for being in existence– and its attitude in pursuing and delivering that purpose.
Today if any organization is not seriously evaluating its leadership and the effectiveness of that leadership then it’s simply fooling itself.
Strategy is as good as its execution—goes the saying.
But in developing an effective strategy listening and leading from the front are two key elements that are instrumental in creating a positive or can-do attitude. It’s this kind of attitude that galvanise people, providing them with a cause, a bigger purpose over and above the revenue targets and cost efficiency that delivers results and, more importantly, create stories that are shared all through the organizations’ eco-system and adds hugely to its reputation.
Do leaders really understand what leadership actually is?
In the course of my career in various industry sectors across Asia, I have noticed how leaders fail in their understanding of leadership due to some of the issues highlighted by Ms. Mackie in her article. From an organizational perspective such failure results in critical leadership gaps which leaves them paralyzed or, worse still, broken in the long-run without any warning.
The critical gaps are:
Lack of strategic business understanding:
Arises from a self-denial behaviour, with regards to inability in understanding business purpose and needs beyond the P&L, and in enlisting necessary support. Resulting in creating a self-inflicted isolation and being dis-engaged.
A survival not growth focus approach on projects:
Flowing from the isolated approach key projects are directed on a survival-mode manner i.e. cost-cutting and higher short-term profits at any cost and not from generating a planned effective growth in the long run.
Lack of clarity and direction to the next level down:
A survival-mode approach results in the inability to engage, fruitfully, in explaining the long-term benefits and results in lack of direction.
Inability to connect, from the heart, and engage rank and file:
Due to the inability in explaining the long-term benefits, stemming from a lack of understanding the strategic business purpose, such leaders are unable to be authentic and speak from the heart and lose out on engaging employees for the bigger purpose of the organization.
Whilst this may read depressingly it’s not a scenario that cannot be changed provided one is willing to make the change. Accept and acknowledging the help you, as a leader need. Be courageous to ask for that help from the team. This impact positively on the respect your team have for you and, in fact, builds respect as you are reaching out for their expertise and showing them the value you have for them.
Being vulnerable by asking for help will not reduce your leadership respect. On the contrary it will increase the same and have a positive rippling effect across the organization.
I’d love to know your story on leadership. Do share here.
Doing the same thing day in day out brings about routine. Whilst a routine is great in generating efficiency, the flip side is that it makes us lose lateral thinking or what I call joining the strategic dots.
From time to time it’s helpful to simply put a bit of emotional distance between the daily needs of the business and our functional role in order to get some blue-sky thinking going.
What this does is that it helps generate the links in joining the dots between strategy and tactics to result.
As T.S; Elliot said,” Every moment is a fresh beginning”.
In our present day world of information overload, constant connectivity and erratic business and economic climate, the times can be quite overwhelming. More so the need to have some off or down-time to have clarity of thought and come back with a fresh beginning.
Whether we are running our own business or we are a corporate manager the commonality is ensuring success in our strategy and daily tactics in business.
In this process you need to continually review your operations strategically and refresh your business strategy.
Here’s 5 ways to give your business that fresh beginning.
REVIEW: Undertake a simple review of how the business operations are performing against plans. Are the specific activities bringing the desired results or not?
EXPLORE: The areas of operations that are not delivering results, look at process, strategy and tactics initiated. Is something missing? Would you do something differently? Explore other solutions that may not seem to be the norm, but probably could have significant impact in a longer term.
NEGOTIATE: In any organization, often times, there is a conflict between the strategic direction and the necessary tactics required. Having reviewed and explored options that may be more effective, you would have to present a probable solution tactfully. You’d have to influence your senior team in order to ensure their compliance so as to be able to deliver on the solution.
EXECUTE: A strategy is as good as its execution. Sometimes, the best plans fail due to bad execution. So when executing a new solution, keep a close eye on the input and reactions and be adept and flexible enough to react and change as you and your team carry out the execution.
WIN: Finally, get ready to win and enjoy the success that comes in. Throughout the process, it’s crucial that you keep a positive attitude that communicates confidence to your team and your clients/customers. Such positivity would rub off during negotiation and execution and bring you achievement of your targeted plans.
I’d be delighted to know how helpful you found this post for your work. Do share your comments and tips.
The starting point for this is to acknowledge the need for change.
Given the rapid changes that have resulted from financial, economic and natural crises coupled with technology adoption and usage the environment within which a business operates has undergone significant changes. Using business tools that worked in the past will not give better or same results. The regular world of business as one had known is no longer in play.
We have to realise and accept that the Islamic finance sector, like other industries, is being disrupted and without accepting the need to change, it would be next to impossible for businesses to be sustainable. Add to this the necessity of having a very strong understanding of the market or a business’s target group needs, with regards for the community to grow economically, and you have a scenario where approaching profitability through just the lens of increasing short-term dollar value will simply not cut it any more.
This brings us back to the query that came in—How can we create the change to review existing business practices and models in order to put profitability from societal benefits as the purpose of a business.
Here’s my 5-Steps-To-Sustainability Cycle:
What this model does is to help in showing the stakeholders two key views:
The increase in profitability and sustainability of the business over a longer period of time vis-à-vis higher short-term gains.
The impact, in terms of economic growth of connected businesses of its partners and vendors along with development t of users who make up the community in which the business operates.
These two views, when projected through the lens of the dollar-value, enable a strong business case to be discussed at the board level. From here it’s the level of strategic understanding and willingness to change, at the leadership level, that impact on the final decision.
Will we see the elephant in the room and address it?