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Robertson Hunter Stewart, renowned Leadership Specialist & Author of the bestseller Employee Power, talks to TheMindLine, on employee centric leadership and much more.

Robertson Hunter Stewart saw success not in a snap. An archetype of relentless persistence, Robertson had to start all over again at the age of 30, when he arrived in France in 1992. A cleaner in 1992 to leading teams from 10 as a supervisor to 800 as Chief Operating Officer, the transition and evolution of this legendary leader recognizes heaps of hard work and guidance from eminent leaders; not but the least, his missing rib, his wife, has been his backbone throughout. Robertson, at one time or another, ran the three biggest hotels in Europe (all with 1000 rooms). Blessed with two fabulous boys, he resides between Paris and the west of France.

His book, The Incredible Value of Employee Power: How to gain competitive advantage by treating your employees well, is a splendid gamechanger that speaks about unleashing the untapped potential and power of employees. A great reference resource for growth enthusiasts and aspiring leaders, the book pinpoints how an organization can benefit through an employee centric approach.

Robertson Hunter Stewart

Mr. Stewart, being a wonderful leader admired by all, could you tell us about the Leadership Mantra that helped you reach there?

“If you do really care for your employees and those that you work with they should at the very least be treated as your internal customers.”

I guess that I have two leadership mantras: The first would be from a quote by Theodore Roosevelt when he said: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. This quote reminds us that those that you lead don’t care about your expertise in the first instance they want and need to know that they matter.

The word care itself can mean as a mnemonic or acronym

Customers Are Really Everything

As a leader we should definitely be paying attention to the levels of staff satisfaction and engagement wherever we work.

The second management mantra that I try to follow is something that was written by the management theorist Peter Drucker who said: “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”.

Currently I help leaders and managers improve the performance of their teams through an approach base on mentoring and coaching. I am basically a management consultant and also teach MBA level students management and strategy. I also write about management in my books (first book Employee Power / second book out this fall).

When and where did your leadership voyage kick off?

It all really started in Paris when I was given the opportunity to run a department in Paris in 1998. This was a truly great learning experience as I found myself in charge of a team of 160 people and 10 managers. What I learned here was the true power and importance of listening to people and my preference for a truly participative style of management. It was during this time that I realized how fundamentally important the word team is and how we can achieve so much more when we work together (Team Together Everyone Achieves More).

Who, according to you, is a real leader? What are the best traits of a real leader? Could you name few great leaders that you have come across and tell us about their influence on you?

One of the leaders that I respect the most is Richard Branson and one of his quotes which I prefer is: “Train people well enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough so that they don’t.” For me this quote underlines the fundamental importance of caring for people and at the same time the importance of autonomy in the workplace.

I believe that great leaders give or at least try and give purpose to people in the workplace. One of the best ways to do this is to offer autonomy at first and to eventually empower people when they have sufficient training. Give your people your confidence and trust, this always pays dividends.

How do you correlate authoritative leadership and toxic workplace?

I would equate authoritative leadership with bullying or pushing people to do as you want or would like them to do. This put’s unnecessary pressure on people and in fact leads to mistakes which in turn induces further stress. This then can very quickly become a “vicious circle.” People should not be pushed they should be pulled and here we have one of the main differences between a run of the mill micro manger and a leader. A leader pulls his team with him and does this through leading by example.

In your book, “The Incredible Value of Employee Power: How to gain competitive advantage by treating your employees well,” considered to be a great gamechanger, what are the major takeaways for executives and managers?

The major takeaways are:

  1. We should be driving our teams based on a much more employee centric rather than consumer or customer centric model or paradigm.
  2. Remember that people work for people and need very much to be treated as unique individuals in the workplace. You need to give time to the individuals that make up your teams and not only the teams themselves. A one to one meeting culture has to be put in place in all organizations whatever their size.
  3. Empowerment is extremely important and it is to do with building relationships based on confidence and trust and this must never be forgotten.

What inspired you to write Employee Power?

My inspiration to write the book came from two things. The first was when I had an argument with someone regarding the relative importance of employees as compared to customers. No matter what I said I could not convince the person I was talking to put employees above customers. The second reason was that I born witness to quite a lot of bad management during my career where people without adequate training or in some cases sufficient integrity have been put in charge of others. My writing is my way of trying to change things in respect of both things mentioned.

How well do you think proper employee management can lead to better customer relationships?

First things first though, the creation of internal value for the employee comes through: Recognition, Good conditions in the workplace both physical and environmental, Adequate training and coaching, Fair management and good leadership.

For me this is a simple relationship which is always based on the service profit chain which stipulates that the creation of internal value for your employees leads to the external value sought after by your customers. This in turn leads to an increase in customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. This brand loyalty culminates in higher than expected revenues and profits. It all comes back to something that we all know; make your employees happy and they will make your customers happy.

Apart from customer satisfaction, what are the other major advantages of an employee-centric organizational culture?

Some of the major advantages are as follows:

  1. Employees are more loyal and are absent less often.
  2. Lower absenteeism.
  3. Higher productivity
  4. Less turnover and therefore a reduction in recruitment and re-training costs.
  5. Easier to implement a participative style of management and models based on autonomy and empowerment.
  6. Organization easier to manage and lead; less time consuming and stressful for the leaders themselves.

What are your suggestions to executives for effectively dealing with bad bosses?

My very first suggestion is that the Executive must identify whether or not the manager in question is not managing well due to a lack of training or if it’s more to do with a problem of attitude or personality. In the first case adequate training and coaching can be provided. This should then be monitored and progress can and will be made in most cases here. In the second case more often than not the best solution is to let them go. This may seem harsh but the possible consequences of leaving someone like that in charge are a lot worse for a lot more people.

Who are the major authors that you closely follow these days?

The major authors that I would recommend to aspiring managers are:

  1. Ken Blanchard
  2. Peter Drucker
  3. Stephen Covey
  4. Simon Sinek

Tell us about your upcoming book.

My new book which is called One to One: Managing quality time with individuals for engagement and success will be published at the beginning of October. The book speaks about the importance of One to One meetings and gives a detailed guide not only to why these meetings are so crucial but also how exactly to carry them out and ensure that they are effective.