“There should be a prize for people who make the worst mistake and learn from it.” This is a quote from Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC, being interviewed by Professor Laura Empson, Director of the Cass Centre for Professional Service Firms, discussing organisational culture and risk. Tony Hall explained how allowing people to make mistakes and nurturing a culture of creative risk taking is fundamental. This inspirational and energising interview exploring Leadership and Change in the Public Eye is part of the Dean’s Lecture Series at Cass Business School.
Tony Hall‘s passion for the arts is clearly a driving force for him in his career and roles as CEO of the Royal Opera House and now Director General of the BBC. He talked of going back stage at the Royal Opera House, smelling the particular smell that back stage has, watching the artists and talking with stage directors and other staff as an antidote to being immersed in management issues. Reconnecting with our actual work and purpose helps to motivate and inspire us. Being visible and present, engaging and listening are core attributes of Tony Hall’s leadership style. He related how on his first day at the BBC he jammed open his office door and set about meeting and shaking hands with each member of staff, around 1200 people.
“Internal politics thrive when it is not clear what is expected of you, there is no sense of team, and no clear purpose” explained Tony Hall, an experienced leader in ‘challenging’ times. “Giving people a sense of confidence” and “sense of direction” are the primary roles of leaders. Tony Hall emphasised the importance of teams and described managers as “enablers with energy, purpose and drive who pull people together to do great things”. When bringing about change, it is necessary to “go with the flow of the organisation” and “work with cultures” not against them. We also need to look outside of our organisations and be aware of what is going on and be future focused.
Professor Laura Empson was an engaging, warm and knowledgeable interviewer. She is evidently a committed advocate of her MBA students who were encouraged to approach Tony Hall at the post-event drinks and ask him one insightful question. Given the opportunity, what would your one insightful question be to Tony Hall?