Kevin Taylor is President, Asia, Middle East and Africa, BT
What makes an ideal business leader?
I believe that an ideal business leader is one who is able to establish and maintain the right balance between shareholder needs, operational business needs and those of the people – the employees and customers of the company – and who also has a bit of fun in the process.
I also believe that keeping customers at the heart of everything the company does is very important. Whether this may include any form of business or operational change, or social dimensional change, it is crucially important to always keep the customer top of mind and consider how said changes may impact them, and how they may react to these changes.
“It is crucially important to always keep the customer top of mind and consider how said changes may impact them, and how they may react to these changes.” – Kevin Taylor, BT
Is there any ideal preparation an aspirant business leader should focus on?
One of the things I believe is very important, when speaking with people, is finding out and understanding what their personal objectives are. For instance, when I speak with other executives I will often ask them what their personal objectives are and how they are rewarded by the company. I find that listening is very important from a learning perspective. For me, it’s all about trying to understand the actual motives behind people’s decisions.
What do you believe is the key to striking the right balance as a leader between being a visionary, an expert in your field, or an all-rounder?
I don’t believe that it is about creating a balance here. Every leader has different strengths and skillsets. No leader can be an expert in everything across the entire business. I believe attaining such a balance is more about bringing in people who are as good as you – or even better – in particular, aspects of the business. A leader must, therefore, have the right qualities to be a team interplay and bring together a collective of the right skills assets, as a well-rounded end-to-end team, that gives you the confidence to deliver the right results and can really please the market. This will also influence the whole hiring strategy and who a leader chooses to include in the team, who will also be a part of development, implementing and driving the business strategy.
What advice do you have for young leaders in terms of coping with the immense pressure and expectations that will be placed on them?
My advice is to maintain a healthy work-life balance that works for you. The millennials who enter the workplace today and will become leaders by 2025, tend to be more orientated towards a work-life balance and have a better appreciation of life, with a large number of interests. I also think social media is changing perceptions of how young leaders are performing. I believe that it is really important to have fun, and if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then don’t do it.
As such, my advice to aspiring leaders is to find a role that you enjoy and you’ll handle the pressure with greater ease.
“My advice to aspiring leaders is to find a role that you enjoy and you’ll handle the pressure with greater ease.” – Kevin Taylor, BT
What are your personal leadership secrets?
For me it is really simple. It’s about hiring the absolute highest quality people that I can and then treating them well. I have always found that if you treat people well and reward them appropriately for performing – based on their personal objectives and aspirations – then they will stay with you and always follow you.
The hiring objectives may differ as, for instance, a profit-based company will look for different individuals compared to a product-based company. And, a good leader needs to have a solid grasp of the types of individuals he or she will need around them and will deliver the right results confidently, based on the business objectives and strategy.
What has been the most important lesson you have learned in your career as a leader?
To deliver on the expectations that the leadership and the shareholders of the company have. Achieving this is not just about knowing what the objectives are, but to deliver them in the right way. I believe that working in an ethical way and aligned to the right values is just as important as achieving the business objectives. And, in my opinion, aligning the right values with the right ethics and delivery on business objectives should be the only way forward for all business leaders.
How important has mentoring been to you in your career, and have you been able to mentor others?
Mentoring is absolutely important.
In terms of people who have mentored me throughout my career, I found I learnt more from observing in order to understand the way they do things, rather than being told what to do or not to do. My learnings have always been interactive and this has also influenced my approach to mentoring others.
For instance, as I get more experienced I use every meeting with my team as an opportunity for group mentoring. So, rather than focusing on one-on-one mentoring sessions, I encourage group sessions for all of my team so that they seize the opportunity to learn from each other. That being said, I do use one-on-one interactions as I go through my working day to give appraisal, feedback and praise. Personally, I have found this interactive approach to mentoring works best.
“I learnt more from observing in order to understand the way they do things, rather than being told what to do or not to do.” – Kevin Taylor, BT
What advice do you have for leaders in terms of the mentoring relationship?
Firstly, I believe that when you are speaking with someone more senior – be it within your company, among shareholders or customers, you have an opportunity to learn something and should look to take advantage of this every time.
Secondly, in terms of personal mentoring relationships, people really respect you if you are adding value to them; if they can see your vision and the direction you and your company are going. Spending time on building relationships and coaching is really important and will give you tremendous results.
To use a football analogy here; if a team is coached well it will perform well and steamroll the opposition.
Any other comments about leadership?
I think it’s important to not be too ‘sold into’ what you may currently be doing, or concrete in your thoughts and plans about how you see your career developing. It’s important to consider every opportunity on your path as you see them. The more open-minded you are the better business leader you will be and the more opportunity you will get. During my career, I have worked for different size companies and across various industries. Every position that I have held has afforded me new learnings and experiences that have advanced my personal growth and also led to opportunities that I might not have had if I had pigeonholed myself.
“The more open-minded you are the better business leader you will be and the more opportunity you will get.” – Kevin Taylor, BT