Born in Malaysia and raised in Uganda, Michael Jenkins, the Human Capital Leadership Institute (HCLI)'s new CEO, has worked in countries such as Japan, France, the UK, and Singapore. When asked about how his childhood impacted his approach to leadership, Jenkins shared that there is value in being raised in a country different than the one your parents are from.
At nine-years of age, Jenkins' parents decided that he would be sent to boarding school in Wales. This decision was based on a few reasons, one of which was opportunity. At the time, the Jenkins family was living in Uganda and there weren't many school options. "I left the noise, the colours, the smells, the carefree nature of Africa and landed in cold and dark Wales in the late 1970s," he says. "This obliges you to develop resilience, to be prepared to draw from reserves of energy."
This has served Jenkins well: he says that when things get difficult, he has a well of strength to draw from. He also shares that this experience of living far from home and family at a young age taught him to have lower expectations, and to be happy when people want to get involved in a project or initiative. Research findings from a study conducted at University College London found that happiness is the management of expectations. Researcher Rudd Rutledge said, that happiness "depends on whether things are going better or worse than you had expected they would."
Jenkins shares that this lesson has come from his upbringing and diverse work experience. "Meeting people from different walks of life at different times in my life has taught me to be non-judgmental and to meet and accept people where they are at," he says. He also shares that developing an appreciation for how someone else sees the world is valuable. If you find yourself disagreeing with someone's opinion, Jenkins advises to first think deeply about his or her opinion. It might just be a different way of thinking. "It is important for leaders today to promote non-judgmental, encouraging, generous, and kind behaviours," says Jenkins.
There is the old adage, leave things better than you found them. This is especially true in leadership positions. For a newly appointed CEO, it can take weeks to understand the core business and value proposition. Jenkins says that when a CEO first joins, this is their first responsibility. "What is ironic is that opportunities may fall away because the CEO is still in the phase of understanding the business," says Jenkins. But what if the new CEO could pick up where the previous one left off? While it may not always be the case, all professionals can consciously manage transitions by leaving a blueprint for their successor and where feasible, set in train some new initiatives too.
"Given the challenges the world faces now, there is no doubt in my mind that we need more—and not less—humanity from leaders," Jenkins says. He references the changes in the digital world such as social media, the internet, and tools that often make our lives easier but more isolating. Feeling positive about the future, Jenkins believes that we may run the risk of sub-optimising technology out of a misplaced concern and fear about the rise of AI. "Technology is unlikely to replicate or replace human beings: jobs might change and disappear, but they will be balanced out by the creation of new ones," he says. Rather, leading responsibly in this age of digital disruption means focusing on how to create better connections and interactions and keeping an open mind about the possibilities that lie ahead.
Possibly drawing on the lessons and tenacity Jenkins learned from boarding school, he shares that it is a leader's job to be positive and calm. When things are going well— and more importantly when they are not— compassionate leaders create safe and secure places. "Compassionate leaders pick others up and dust them off. They look at experiences as learning opportunities," Jenkins says. Because leaders want their teams to be successful, creating safe spaces for experimentation is a good way to encourage people to embrace innovation. Making teams fearful of failure – and being overly critical when missteps happen - is a sure-fire way of smothering new ideas and ways of doing things.
A responsible leader is reliable and thoughtful while being strategic and focused on excellence. Jenkins stresses that leaders must be consistent: say what you do and do what you say. At the end of the day, responsible leadership is doing the right thing. It is about embracing what is best for the organisation, being authentic, and creating a work environment where people want to be involved and contribute their best efforts, and ultimately, when that journey comes to an end, it is about leaving things better than we found them.