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Leadership lessons from the BBC....from Greg Dyke

by Claire Martinsen on Thu 05th Nov 2009 18:53

destination growth

I attended Destination Growth 09 earlier this week – organised by EEDA [East of England Development Agency] is a bi-annual major conference for businesses in the East of England.  It was held in the spectacular setting of Duxford Air Museum – with made for a really memorable day….I mean what could be better than networking under Concorde?

IMG00315-20091103-0949The opening speaker of the day was Greg Dyke – ex Director General of the BBC – talking on the subject of Leadership in Adversity.  He was incredible dynamic  and more than a little bit inspirational.  He gave a really great speech, and it was obvious just from seeing him on stage just how motivational he must have been as leader of the BBC.

He spoke so much sense, and is obviously a natural leader [rather than a manager!].  He had a tough task to take on with the diverse and very traditionally run BBC, but he really seemed to have flourished and found his feet.  What a pity that it ended in controversy and his resignation.

Just to share some of the key things I took away from listening to Mr D!

  • Set the Role Model at the top
    Lead by example….but also just be you! Never lapse into the language of gobbledy-gook, speak to everyone as an equal don’t bamboozle them with management jargon. Admit mistakes – no one is perfect and staff appreciate honesty from up top….it helps set the culture.  Greg told a great anecdote about publically apologising for the Question Time format the week of 9/11, saying simply that they [collectively] had got it wrong.
  • Leadership is about the stories people tell about you
    Greg gave the example of the story the security guard would tell about him was 100% predicated on the opinion he formed in the brief moments of interaction.  He also spoke of the day that his house burnt down [literally] and he was meant to be giving a speech – the group had assumed on hearing his news that he would not turn up.  However Greg deliberately went to huge lengths to turn up – predicting rightly that this would be the story that the group would tell about him.
  • Create Stories – play to people’s visual nature
    Greg is clearly a great story teller, but he also stressed the value of stories to record company history and to bring people together.  The BBC had actually recreated the story of the storming of Kabul [John Simpson’s greatest moment!] really playing on the major role that 2 Engineers had played in transporting their equipment over the hills by donkey.  Their reaching Kabul at the same time at John Simpson ensured that the pictures/sound were relayed to the UK.  Stories can help everyone in the company feel proud.
  • Create a sense of change as quickly as you can
    Greg told plenty of stories about how the red tape of the BBC had stiffled the culture in some areas – so that in some cases people had forgotten why they were unable to do certain things. He had embarked on a tour of the whole of the BBC [including all the regional radio stations] trying to meet as many of the employees as he could.  He had asked everywhere 2 questions:
    [1] What do we need to change to give a better service to our customers?
    [2] What can I personally do to make your life easier?
    He made a great point about making small inconsequential changes if they create a sense of energy – eg approving a request for live music in reception at lunchtimes.


The proof is really in the pudding I guess……………when Greg resigned he had 6,000 emails of support from colleagues and employees. He read out one that said simply ‘men, women and journalists cried today’.  The question that Greg posed to the 800 strong audience was ‘How many of your staff would do that for you?’………a sobering thought indeed.

I heard some other great speakers at Destination Growth….but I’ll share those later!


Posted in: Speakers/Meetings


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