Accenture's Jack Percy on what makes a top leader

Accenture chairman and managing director Jack Percy shares the qualities found amongst successful leaders

Accenture's Jack Percy on what makes a top leader
At the recent National HR Summit, Jack Percy, chairman and managing director for Accenture Australia spoke about his style of leadership, providing insights to his success.

He revealed that there are four strategic categories which have contributed to his success as a leader:

•    Authenticity
•    Collaboration
•    Decision making
•    Courage

1. Authenticity
Percy explained that some leaders are in their roles as a stepping stone to something else. 
“It’s difficult to pretend you’ve got authenticity,” Percy said. “It’s not possible to pretend you care. If you’re in a role because it matters for your career, it will come through.”

So how do you generate a sense of authenticity? According to Percy, leaders have to walk the walk. “Follow the company’s ethical guidelines yourself,” he explained. “Support things such as flexible work practices and maternity leave – make people feel comfortable to return to work when they feel ready.”

Percy also pinpointed a must-have for demonstrating authenticity in leadership: vulnerability. “Coming across as authentic without a degree of vulnerability is difficult,” Percy said. “One technique that worked for me is storytelling. If you tell personal stories enough, people start telling them about you, which is way more powerful.”

He recounted an anecdote to the audience involving a spontaneous cycle for charity. “Data is forgotten, but stories are remembered,” Percy added. Another piece of advice Percy had was to remember that it is “better to do one thing and do it well than to spread yourself thinly over several tasks”.

Putting efforts into a task “before the fight starts” helps to create the authentic leader image – but if problems do arise, Percy advised to solve them before allocating blame. HC asked Percy how he maintains a balance between displaying authenticity and vulnerability and leading with authority.

“I don’t see those as conflicting issues,” he explained. “In fact, I think displaying vulnerability enhances authority rather than undermining it. A lot of people assume the opposite to be true and don’t let their vulnerability shine through.”

In today’s world, authority is not limited to military styles of leadership, Percy continued. “It comes from people wanting to follow,” he said. “A leader is no good if they’ve got no followers. Having people work for you because they need a job is different from people working for you because they want to work for you.”

2. Collaboration
“Silos create politics and boundary issues,” Percy said. “But they are inevitable – they can’t be avoided, but can be managed.”
He advised leaders dealing with the silo mentality to:

    Create a shared vision
    Set rules on how this vision will be managed

“In a leadership team, it’s important that everyone holds each other accountable for actually doing what we said we’d do,” said Percy. “Make it clear when a decision or commitment has been made.”

3. Decision making
Percy’s decision making framework revolves around an ‘intellect over ego’ mantra. “Make a decision and then make it the right decision, rather than focussing on analytics and ultimately delaying a decision being made,” he said. “Leaders almost always don’t have enough information, but consider whether gaining more information will actually make a difference.”

He also advised leaders to remember that behaviour is non-linear. “Because we understand things more easily in linear terms, we try to extract everything into that,” he explained.

4. Courage
According to Percy, successful leadership is also aligned with the ability to take risks – which he admits is not always easy. He said leaders must have the courage to make unpopular decisions; and to take responsibility for them.

“Leaders need to be able to make these decisions and explain to those involved “I know you don’t like it, but here’s why”,” Percy said. “It’s important to own it and explain the rationale behind the decision, then to stick to it and follow through.” He added that people will always try to push back against unpopular decisions, but warned those in leadership positions to be wary of this.

“If you allow that to happen, you undermine your credibility to make decisions stick,” Percy said. Another aspect requiring courage, according to Percy, is onboarding. 

“Be bold,” he advised. “Hire and promote people who are better than you.” He referred to the mantra of a Dutch colleague: “A players hire A players; B players hire C players”.

This article originally appeared in Australian Broker issue 12.07.

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