By JEFF Thomson, President and CEO at Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)
“At one of our first meetings, I deliberately sat on the floor and asked the seated staff to rise—a simple yet symbolic gesture. I wanted them to understand that I wasn’t standing above them, glaring down, commanding. My leadership would be focused on supporting them to become leaders themselves, so they could advance their professional lives during a frightening period (that bump) in their careers.”
That quote from Giraffes of Technology: The Making of the Twenty-First-Century Leader, by Hubert Glover and John Curry, is Glover describing a pivotal early experience from his time heading up a subsidiary of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that had been through three CEOs in nine months. Employees were fearful of losing their jobs, trust and motivation were at a minimum, and the moment called for a nurturing and authentic symbol of the leadership style to follow. Opening a book review with a quote from the book might seem an unusual way to begin, but this quote succinctly expresses all that I found provocative, symbolic, relevant, and inspiring about Glover and Curry’s book.
Why did they title it Giraffes of Technology? In 21st-Century business, especially in the United States, organizations and their leaders often embrace a top-down, autocratic style in the quest to achieve short-term gains (e.g., quarterly profits for shareholders). Yet many studies in the area of servant leadership show that a nurturing, empathetic, and values-oriented approach creates greater business value in the long run. According to the authors, the giraffe is the least offensive beast in the wild. It bears no ill will toward any other animal. They view the giraffe as a metaphor for a leader with a unique lookout post—one who incents followership rather than intimidating others in the herd to behave in a certain manner.
Glover’s symbolic yet authentic leadership moment at PwC epitomizes another behavior of the giraffe. At birth, the calf is dropped from its mother’s pouch six feet to the ground, building speed that severs the umbilical cord. All of us, in our personal and professional lives, fall from the womb, from the security of our homes and loved ones, or from the safety zone that often defines our day jobs. At that meeting with his staff, Glover not only showed he would be a genuine leader who would help the team work through a difficult period, but he also demonstrated that, by picking himself up, he would pick up the rest of the team and rise above the disruption from constant leadership changes and stress.
Glover and Curry organize Giraffes of Technology using six herbivore-inspired leadership traits that CEOs and managers must embrace over the next decade to create and enable sustainable organizations that enrich society. Today’s technology triggers a business environment that requires adapting to untidy change—change that isn’t easy but is necessary. The six chapters in the book are rooted in unique themes, or metaphors, centered on the behaviors of the giraffe in the wild: acting as a lookout post to focus on the long run vs. the short run; communicating with others as gentle giants; dealing with a violent birth; moving forward to inspire a never-stop-learning mind-set; dealing with the predator lions who seek to disrupt change; and blending into new herds to enable diversity of people and thought.
It’s an inviting, engaging read. Glover and Curry combine a touch of Back to the Future with a sense of Animal Kingdom to provide an inspiring look at the kind of leaders businesses need to succeed in the 21st Century.