Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL
Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), NP11, The Piece Hall Trust
Tell us about your journey to being a leader.
I am a metallurgist or applied scientist by first degree. However, on graduation, I decided I didn’t want to be in the world of science, so joined Price Waterhouse (which became PwC) in the late 70s and trained as a qualified Chartered Accountant, before becoming a partner in 1988. I always thought my career would lead me back into industry but found myself working in business recovery as I was fascinated by turnaround and where appropriate insolvency as a means of business survival.
Along my journey, between 2007-2009, I was seconded to the Cabinet Office, joining the Board as Director General of Strategic Finance and Operations. Whilst working in the heart of Government I realised that the North where I came from, over the eighties, nineties, and early noughties, had continued towards seemingly terminal economic and social decline and something had to be done to turn the region around. This brought me into the agenda that I am in now as Chair of the LEP, bringing the ‘Great’ back to the North.
I have worked across many industries throughout my career, from heavy engineering, technology, textiles, chemicals, and food manufacturing, and it is through these industries and the people I have worked with that I believe have helped me to get to where I am now.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would say it is involved and inclusive, fair and firm, but also focused on the outcomes.
What values are important to you as a leader?
Honesty, integrity and above all, authenticity. Authenticity is two way – it is not how you are perceived by others but how you perceive yourself.
Do you have three key attributes that define a leader?
Leaders should focus on outcomes rather than process and be able to calibrate and manage risk, rather than avoid risk. Meaningful collaboration is also critically important. Leadership is often not just about leading but encouraging others to lead, communicating to all levels in a way that people feel engaged and thereby excited, as well as never forgetting that you are orchestrating and creating common purpose and agenda.
The real test of good leadership is also quality succession planning and the people who can carry the ‘torch’ forward.
Why do you think leadership development is important?
There is some school of thought that says leadership is taught but also some kind of instinct, that you are born leaders. For me I think there are elements of both. There are natural human attributes that ensure people are good and effective leaders, as well as understanding techniques to augment that position. I have never actually considered myself as a leader but rather somebody who wants to make things happen and recognises that I cannot do everything on my own.
Leadership development is important as it gives people the framework and tools to add to their toolkit along the way. It helps them to think about things and maybe do things a different way or use of different style; something of a chameleon approach.
Over the years I have attended various programmes that are similar to leadership development at the London Business School, Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan School of Management. I remember a Harvard Business Review piece that really brought leadership alive in my mind. The paper was written by Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee, titled, ‘Why should anyone be led by you? which I think is a compelling question.
What lessons have you learnt as a leader?
That you cannot please everyone but must make the right decisions. You must be a good listener, be patient and persistent and be decisive but not directive. You also need be able to hold your hands up if you got something wrong, if you have misjudged something or someone, which all goes back to being honest.
All of the above are like a multifaceted diamond, you may have to move it around to refract or reflect light as appropriately, and that is how I see leadership – it is not static, it is dynamic.
What has been your biggest challenge as a leader?
For me, it is not that I get bored easily, but when I get bored it is hard to come back from. Some people say that I am nosey, but I am just naturally very curious. I want to lift the lid off things and look inside, which is probably my biggest challenge. My problem is that I often try to focus on too many things at the same time.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?
You need to answer that core question I mentioned above, ‘Why should anyone be led by you?’ and keep asking yourself as things change. Leaders need to be passionate, bold but measured and really believe in where they are going, otherwise there is no authenticity.
You also have to recognise that the metaphorical buck does stop with you, and you need to act accordingly. And don’t lose sight of humanity, of where you have come from, of how you got here, and remember that not everyone is as privileged. We all have experiences in our lives that were seminal moments that seemed bad at the time but probably lit the fire for success.
Can you recommend any good leadership books?
Why should anyone be led by you? by the late Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Start with why by Simon Starek
Can we be happier? by Richard Layard
What career would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you are doing now?
I don’t think I would really change what I have done. I got to a stage in my career/life when leaving PwC wasn’t the right thing to do but had to think about how I reset my shelf-life and do something different. That was when I became Director General of Strategic Finance and Operations in the Cabinet Office. I was able to extend my longevity in professional services until retirement. It was a strategic decision that opened up new horizons that I had never even thought of and the last eight years as Chair of the LEP have been full of interest, challenge and above all enormous satisfaction.