Irish businesses can learn from Mitt Romney's decision to appoint Paul Ryan

 

A SUCCESSFUL if controversial businessman, Mitt Romney has realised his campaign for the US presidency is struggling. The appointment of Paul Ryan as his running mate in the election has injected a missing ingredient into his campaign – vision.

Bill Clinton was renowned for having “the vision thing”, if not always so good on some of the other things required for good leadership – such as effective operational management. In contrast, Romney has been under siege for failing to provide a compelling vision of the future – his promise of efficient economic management alone has failed to capture the electorate’s imagination.

Belatedly, Romney has identified this weakness and recognised the need to engage the passion of Republican voters. He has therefore taken a bold step by selecting Ryan, a thinker and a man of ideas and vision on fiscal reform and governance. If nothing else, voters now have a clearer vista of what a four-year Romney presidency might look like, and a newfound enthusiasm for his candidacy appears to be surfacing on the American right. Time will tell if it’s too late for his campaign.

While US presidential politics is a distance away from the coalface of Irish business, nonetheless the leaders of Irish organisations can learn from Romney’s actions.

For the past four years, Irish businesses have had no choice but to be embedded in operational challenges. Belt-tightening has necessarily been the order of the times, with organisations required to be leaner and more efficient. As with Romney’s challenge up to the appointment of Ryan, the risk of being stuck in the trenches is that developing and communicating a vision can drift to the bottom of a crowded managerial to-do list.

Romney’s actions are a timely reminder to us all that as we go through the relentless day-to-day work of managerial fire fighting, we must not lose sight of our greater purpose. Survival on its own isn’t an inspiring long-term strategy and it is essential to periodically step back and map out our values and purpose anew.

For the past four years, most Irish businesses and organisations have had their heads down, forensically examining business processes and the profit-and-loss account. But if they don’t look up now from the rows and columns, they will miss the chance to renew their businesses and revitalise their people as the first, albeit weak, signs of recovery appear.

Irish businesses have traditionally been slow to map out their vision and values. Such initiatives can be brushed off as fluffy, superfluous activities. However, leadership isn’t just about ducking and diving the latest operational challenge. It is about making sure there is a clear future for the organisation, and people are passionate about this future.

Think of the success a relentless focus on vision and ideas has in an organisation like Apple, where Steve Jobs created a business in which encouraging both are fundamental tenets of the culture. Closer to home, the bold vision and ambition of Kerry Group’s Stan McCarthy illustrates that when we put our mind to it, Irish businesses are equally capable of taking on the world.

If we are to take advantage of green shoots as they slowly appear in the economy, Irish business leaders need to get their people excited and passionate again. The hard graft of survival has taken the excitement out of work for many, but this can be renewed by taking the time to reaffirm organisational values and purpose. After four years of slog on operational efficiencies, businesses should refocus on bigger picture opportunities.

Whatever his personal strengths and weaknesses, Paul Ryan’s vision gives him one quality all businesses need to embody at this point: passion. Sometimes Irish managers and Irish people generally can be cynical about vision and mission. But by reconfirming their organisational purpose and values, businesses can position themselves to energetically seize the opportunities that economic recovery presents.


Dr Simon Boucher is chief operating officer of the Irish Management Institute and programme director on the IMI Diploma in Leadership.

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