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Business leadership: an exercise in honesty?

09 May, 2013

Effective leadership is an exercise in honesty, one of the world's most respected business identities has declared.

Origin Energy managing director Grant King told a packed QUT Business Forum recently that the key to effective leadership was to make decisions firmly based on the company's core values.

King is the only Australian listed in the recent Harvard Business Review list of the world's top-performing CEOs. He has been at the helm of Origin for the past 13 years and in the energy business for two decades.

He said in his experience, a good leader must have three attributes: vision - know where the company is at present and where it wants to go; communication - the ability to communicate that vision to an organisation and rally troops to achieve it, and; principles - whose capacity is channelled for good use, and who consistently articulates those principles.

"Vision...helps with enduring difficult times,'' he said.

"And there is no point having that vision without the capacity to communicate it and engage people.''

Decision making, he said, was a sticking point many companies endured. To solve that, leaders should create a culture that encouraged better decision making over time, following a predetermined set of values.

He said at Origin, all decisions had to live up to five enduring principles: duty of care - how will it impact on people; obligation to create value - will it create value for the people that depend upon us; sustainability - "because if we get that wrong we won't survive''; adversity - Have all of the points of view been considered, through vigorous debate within a tolerant environment; transparency - has the decision been made with the knowledge that everything that people "do and say will become known at some time as there is no such thing as secret or private"?''

"Value is different to profit,'' he said.

"Profit is only one way to measure value.

"And (with the issue of transparency,) how many bad decisions have been made over time because someone thought no one would find out?''

He said using this values-based decision making process, and exercising the three leadership attributes, has ensured decisions made at Origin have stood the test of time - no matter the political, environmental or economic climate at any given time.

"The future is unknowable,'' he said.

"We live in the future so we try to think in the future. At the end of the day, decisions have to be made not based on what future we might like (to create), but whatever we need to be successful in the future.''

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