Perspectives on leadership, integrity and ethics – reflecting on a 38-year career in the mining industry
As one progresses through one’s career, the ability to positively influence people to achieve a great outcome becomes progressively more important. This influencing is not confined to direct reports but also includes peers, senior personnel and other industry stakeholders.
Here, I will discuss what integrity is, how it fits into the leadership tool kit (particularly in the Australian mining industry) and finally tie these principles together into the larger framework of good corporate citizenship and professional ethics.
The normal progression for many people through their careers is from technician to middle management and perhaps onto executive leadership. Each of these levels has a different requirement in terms of skills mix.
The technician requires a high level of technical skills and some people skills. This level is about doing the work. Generally strategic skills are not a critical element of a technician’s role.
Middle management positions rely less on technical skills but require good people or leadership skills. This level is all about organising the work and motivating people to perform to the best of their ability. There is a higher need for some strategic skills in middle management positions than at a technician level.
Executive leaders rely foremost on their strategic skills. Their roles are to ensure the organisation is heading in the right direction. They need to be aware of the external environment in which the organisation operates and their influence must extend beyond the organisation to other stakeholders including both government and community groups.
Technical skills are less of a requirement for executive leadership roles, but good leadership and people skills are important. To progress through your career, it is important to learn the fundamentals of good leadership.
What is integrity and how does it fit into leadership?
I have seen a number of organisations that define integrity as ‘doing what we say we are going to do’. I do not believe this is the correct definition and instead think it has created confusion. Doing what we say we are going to do is generally about delivering budget outcomes and forecasts. This involves trying to predict the future and then taking responsibility for the outcome. This has nothing to do with integrity. This is accountability. Unfortunately, this popular definition is often used as a means of creating pressure on line management to ensure targets are met. There is nothing wrong with creating the urgency to deliver targets; however, integrity is a far deeper value.
Leadership is all about leading the actions of others to achieve an outcome. This involves influencing others to take a certain course of action. A manager has two levels of influence. The first level comes through the authority vested in the organisational position. The second level comes from the personal authority or influence the manager has. The personal authority is given to the manager from the people he or she is leading on the basis of the respect and trust that has been established.
Positional authority is ‘do what you are told because I am the boss’. There is a certain element of fear associated with a direction coming from positional authority. It is a breach of one’s contract of employment to refuse a legitimate work instruction. The consequence of a refusal to carry out the instruction could be disciplinary action and in the worst case, dismissal. There are definitely times when positional authority must be exercised, and this may include where urgent action needs to be taken or where law or company policy must be enforced.
The problem with the exercise of positional authority is that it does not inspire and does not facilitate discretionary effort from the team.
Personal authority is the trust and earned right to speak. It has nothing to do with the position you hold, but everything to do with the person you are. Leadership through personal authority results in inspiration and the sharing of a common vision. It is only through this type of personal authority or influence that people will gladly exercise their discretionary effort.
It takes time to earn the trust required to exercise personal authority. The best way to earn that trust is through the demonstration of your integrity. Integrity has the following two components. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
Being untruthful is more than telling a straight out lie. It includes manipulative behaviour such as withholding important information so that the group or individual reaches a conclusion that suits your needs. It also includes denying knowledge of a matter so that you do not have to take responsibility or explain yourself. It includes making a commitment that you have no intention of fulfilling. It even includes exaggerating an event or minimising it to get the desired reaction from whoever you are dealing with.
The second component of integrity is strong moral principles.
Strong moral principles are about making the right choices.
The practice of integrity is not easy and can lead to a certain level of personal exposure and vulnerability. It is however worth the personal risk if we want to earn the respect and trust that supports the practice of personal authority.
Leadership and industrial relations
There is another element of the Australian mining industry that should be mentioned in terms of leadership and that is the industrial relations culture. The union movement is particularly strong in the coal industry and certainly not a toothless tiger in the metalliferous and quarrying sector.
Unions have played an important role in establishing safe working environments and acceptable working conditions.
However, unions need to stay relevant if they are to survive. They need to be seen as protecting the worker and providing support in times of need. There is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Australian mining workforce. It is in the unions’ interests for their members not to trust management and seek protection from the union organisation.
Any representation that management makes and fails to deliver on will serve to undo trust with the workforce and result in a loss of personal authority.
Any indication that management does not have their employee’s best interests at heart will also serve to destroy that trust.
It is important to consider carefully when in your career you have a conflict between delivering productivity outcomes and the safety of your workforce. If you choose a productivity outcome because of fear of reprisal from your supervisor or for self-promotion at the expense of someone’s safety, then you will lose your personal authority and influence over that person.
Now, I would like to share a perspective on integrity that I gained whilst I was the Chief Inspector for Queensland Coal. The Chief Inspector oversees the mining regulator. The mining regulators primary function is to enforce the legislation that protects the safety and health of coal mine workers.
It is the person at the coal face who runs the highest risk of injury. It is therefore incumbent on management to ensure that there are proper systems, adequate supervision, adequate resources and effective training to reduce the risk of injury.
I had one case brought to my attention by a coal mine worker where an organisation had proposed removing critical safety items from the pre-start check lists. The items to be removed included fire extinguishers, communication devices and the flashing warning lights. The basis for removing these items from the check list was to enable the trucks to be operated rather than standing them down until they were repaired.
The matter was serious enough to result in a formal warning being issued to the most senior people in the organisation that a prosecution would occur should the modified pre-start check list be implemented.
Worse than that was the loss of the workforce’s confidence in the management team. Ultimately the management team was replaced as the loss of confidence from the workforce was irreparable.
Integrity and leadership at the executive level
The executive needs to understand the environment in which they operate and balance the needs of all the stakeholders.
The list of stakeholders in the mining industry is very large. It includes shareholders, communities, environmental groups, unions, industry organisations, suppliers, customers and different levels of government.
In order for an organisation to retain its licence to operate, it must build trust and demonstrate that it is a good corporate citizen. The demonstrated integrity of the executive leadership team is critical in building this trust.
Finally, I would like to mention the AusIMM Codes of Ethics. To quote the code: ‘The purpose of the Code of Ethics is to commit members to uphold and enhance both their personal integrity and the integrity of the profession, and to ensure the highest standing of AusIMM and of its members in the community is sustained.’
Of note in this, is the key word integrity.
Working in the mining sector is something we should feel proud of. Mining has been the basis from which civilisation has developed and still supports our current quality of life. However, it is incumbent on us to perform our profession with integrity.
At a corporate level it includes mining in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. It includes rehabilitating mining disturbed land for the benefit of future generations. It includes ensuring the protection of the safety and health of all people engaged in the organisation as well as generating benefits for all stakeholders.
The key to successful leadership is personal influence, not positional authority.
The best way to build that influence is through the establishment of trust through demonstrated integrity in the way that you carry out your profession.
Integrity is the crucial ingredient of leadership across all levels of an organisation.