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I've known Wes Brown for many years in his capacity as Chief Executive of Datamail and over the last year in his management roles at the Inland Revenue Department and at the Ministry of Justice.
Two things stand out about Wes at Datamail:
When I asked Wes about the advice he would like to leave behind for the next generation of Kiwi leaders he emphasized three points:
By authenticity Wes means understanding yourself, being yourself and being consistent; not pretending to be something you aren't.
Authenticity is based on values. "Values are not something I went out looking for. They're part of my DNA, part of my upbringing. These values guide me in the way I see things and in my relationships with people."
The values most important to Wes are:
As he says, "A leader has to have followers and people will follow you if they respect you and want to work with you".
"I've always been optimistic", he says. "I've always been someone who looked beyond where my job is at present, at the big picture, where the organisation is going and how I can contribute. I've never worried about the next job. It's about thinking: "I can pretty much do what I want". The opportunities are as big as we want them to be. It depends on how we see it. It's about kicking back against the bureaucratic thing that says, "That's someone else's job.", or, "That's been tried before!".
Wes says job descriptions can be a huge hindrance to work: "5% of people need procedures to function and 95% are happy to get on and work without them. So why do we spend so much time pandering to the 5%? If they can see work that needs to be done and it's somewhere close to what they are doing, why not do it!?" Risk-management is similar: "It's all about a small handful of people who might let you down. Shouldn't we be dealing with those people when it happens? Not discouraging the 95%!"
Wes believes in Appreciative Inquiry, the approach that builds on the positive rather than attacking negatives. As he says, "When people function in a negative way it's very hard to change them. It's better to find the pockets of positive activity, build on those and essentially overwhelm the negative."
One of the most important things a leader does is to select the people who will go on the journey. Wes selects on attitude and ability to think. When Wes selected the management team that started Datamail, they joined a company that did not exist. The vision had to overcame all the unknowns, As he said, "I need someone to be the Operations Manager but there's no factory yet and someone to be Sales Manager but there are no customers or products yet."
To get commitment like this, according to Wes: "The future must be desirable and exciting and one that can be owned by everyone. It is the Chief Executive's responsibility to ensure there is a vision and to keep it alive.
It needs lots of encouragement and sharing. It should be able to be summed up in a few clear messages spoken and spoken and spoken again. And lived out through practice. That's when it becomes real and authentic".
Interviewed by Bruce Holland January 2006