ARE great leaders born or made?
It’s a question that has taxed the finest minds for centuries. Juliette Alban-Metcalfe, the chief executive of The Real World Group, believes leadership is all about how you behave, and not what or who you know.
A chartered occupational psychologist, she is at the helm of a business that helps bosses around the world to raise their game. It can also help to save taxpayers’ money by improving the quality of leadership at organisations that are responsible for upholding the law and keeping our road network flowing.
Her parents – Professor Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe and Dr John Alban-Metcalfe – were encouraged to start Real World Group in 2001 by the University of Leeds, at a time when management tools were not as sophisticated as they are today.
The company was initially built around the success of a study the couple conducted into “engaging leadership”, which involved thousands of people from the public and private sectors.
“Both my parents were psychologists,’’ said Ms Alban-Metcalfe. “They were very interested in how people worked; my dad from an educational psychology perspective and my mum from an occupational psychology perspective.
“Their passion and enthusiasm for how people tick certainly came through. Although I did end up following in their professional footsteps, and even working with them, I like to think I’ve managed to forge my own path as an organisational psychologist, and I have enabled our company to expand its reach and reputation, building on my parents’ initial work.”
Ms Alban-Metcalfe, who is a visiting associate professor at the University of Southern Queensland, has played a significant role in shifting the company’s focus.
“Around nine years ago we took a strategic decision to really focus on what we are brilliant at as a company,’’ she said.
She presented a paper to the board which argued that the company should focus on creating diagnostic tools for leaders and teams based on research, “which has a highly practical and successful application worldwide”.
She recalled: “The strategy was that we would reduce our consultancy, which was about 90 per cent of our revenue in the early days .
“It was all focused on the public sector and mostly within a 100-mile radius. We were fairly protective of who could be licenced to use our diagnostic tools as they could become a competitor to our consulting activity.
“We were – and still are – great at consultancy, but then many other people are too. However, we are outstanding at creating assessment tools.
“Later when I became MD and then CEO, we made a major change in strategy and became primarily a diagnostics provider. We’ve opened our distribution paths to the world and now distribute our leadership, board and team tools in 17 countries and multiple languages including Russian and Mandarin.”
Closer to home, Ms Alban-Metcalfe is proud of the work the company has done in supporting a range of public sector organisations over the past 16 years, including “culture change programmes” with Blackpool and Southend-on-Sea councils.
She said: “What is satisfying is that most of our clients, including these organisations, evaluate their programmes and talk about their success more widely, so we get to hear what the real impacts have been.
“I would hope that the people we have worked with, and the new ways that they approach leading, has enabled them and their colleagues to re-engage with their passion for what they do.”
The company’s diagnostic tools are used around the world in every sector.
She added: “For example, we’ve worked with the Australian Institute of Company Directors because they wanted to enhance and improve the governance diagnostic tool they use with Australia’s listed companies.
“We can also demonstrate that we are contributing to millions of pounds in cost savings through work we’ve done enhancing leadership and team working with, for example, the police, and with major infrastructure companies working on the M1 motorway.”
Problems can arise when organisations promote people on the basis of their technical skills alone.
Ms Alban-Metcalfe said: “They forget, or underestimate, how important behaviours are. One of our latest innovations has been a selection tool that enables senior people to be assessed based on the behaviours that are proven to really make a difference.
“It would be fantastic, if in 10 years’ time, people are still talking about engaging leadership and people have a real understanding that leadership is about how you behave, not what you know.”
Last year, the Yorkshire businesswoman Rachel Hannan invested an undisclosed six-figure sum in Real World Group, after being impressed with the “passion and commitment “of the company’s founders.
Ms Alban-Metcalfe believes Ms Hannan’s expertise and drive will be the key to unlocking the company’s next growth phase as she promotes enlightened leadership strategies around the world.
She added: “It’s all about the difference you make to other people’s lives – their motivation and their wellbeing at work.
“From a business case perspective, the most effective leaders with the most productive teams, are those who behave with humanity and integrity and actually motivate people to go the extra mile, through the way that they behave.”
Title: CEO of the Real World Group
Date of birth: November 22 1976
Education: BSc (Hons) Psychology (Goldsmiths’, University of London); MSc Occupational Psychology (Birkbeck, University of London); MSc Positive Organization Development and Change (Case Western Reserve University, Ohio)
First job: Various office temping jobs around Leeds
Last book read: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Favourite song: Fire Meet Gasoline by Sia
Favourite film: I Love You Phillip Morris (nothing to do with smoking, genius acting!)