The Boss

Leadership

Thursday 3 March 2011

Lord Digby Jones

The Boss: On leaders and managers

Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London

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“I’ll answer questions on anything,” said Lord Digby Jones to the London Business Forum at the Southbank Centre. It is this straight-talking, no-nonsense approach that has secured Lord Jones his reputation as one of the country’s most renowned business commentators.

Jones was appointed Minister of State for UK Trade & Investment in 2007 and became the only peer with a ministerial role not to join the party of government. Jones spent the next 15 months in the role and travelled to 31 countries in 45 overseas visits promoting British business across the world. He now chairs the international business advisory board at HSBC and is corporate ambassador for Jaguar Cars and JCB.

“Arrogance and I are no strangers,” Jones told the LBF. For that reason he insisted it is vital that every leader keeps their feet on the ground and steps into the shoes of those who are subject to their actions: “Dip into those things that just prove you weren’t as important as you thought you were.”

Reflecting on the current economic climate, Jones stressed the vital role that the leaders and managers in the LBF audience will play in cutting Britain’s deficit: “This is a very, very important time and if there is one sector of society that is most important right now, it’s you!” Business, he continued, “generates taxation,” which pays for public services. “If it wasn’t for the wealth you create, there would not be one penny of tax anywhere in Britain,” said Jones. Of course, Jones realised that the banks were at fault but, he urged, “the concept of being a home for the best financial services on earth has to pertain if we’re going to generate tax to pay down the deficit and pay for our schools and hospitals.”

Jones believes that effective leadership will make the difference as businesses embrace the challenges of the 21st century. If the 19th century belonged to Britain and the 20th century to America, then this century will be Asia’s century. British business must give investors a reason to invest in them because, he advised, there are 1.3 billion people in China, 1 billion people in India and “every one of them want your lunch!”

He argued that every leader needs to understand this and defined a leader as “anybody who in a business environment takes a decision that affects one more person and acts on it.” Jones believes that good leaders should be straight-talking: “Get a reputation for answering the questions and be straight with people.” Good leaders invest in their people; they set the standard and never ask others to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.

His top but easily applied tips for leaders were to say please and thank you, to know when to say sorry “and mean it,” and to understand that leadership is all about encouraging others to be the best they can be. Quoting former US President Harry S. Truman, he concluded, “It’s remarkable what you can achieve when you don’t care who gets the credit.”