Richard Byles walks softly, but as president and CEO of Sagicor Life, he has piloted the life insurance giant to growth through tight economic times. His experiences as a manager were the centrepiece of the fifth lecture in the Digicel Extraordinary Leadership Series.
Spiced with his wry wit, the Sagicor president drew nods of appreciation throughout his presentation to a collection of Digicel managers at their Kingston headquarters on October 24.
In a session where he traced the key moments in his career, he distilled his advice to the Digicel audience into five major areas.
1. Focus on what you do now:
Using a sporting analogy, of ace golfer Tiger Woods and tennis queen Serena Williams, he zeroed in only on the task at hand. Byles recommended that managers focus totally on the assignments they have now. He explained that commitment to excellence in current tasks can have a reward later.
2. You can't do it alone - you need a team:
In his observation, managers often make the mistake of filling their work teams with people just like themselves. He prefers to select team members who know more about some aspect of the task than he does. As part of a warning against judging potential team members on appearances, he emphasised that diversity is strength for teams.
His last two points under this heading caused a stir and some smiles. One was to work with people who deliver, even if you don't like them. The other was that a good spouse provides stability and freedom to do great things, according to the happily married father of two grown sons.
3. Competitive spirit:
He challenged the audience to set a higher standard for themselves individually, and to exceed what they've done in the past, and admitted that he's never 100 per cent satisfied. Spread that spirit to the team, he suggested, and, though the intra-team competition might be sometimes hard to manage, the elevated level of performance is well worth it for all.
4. Reward and recognition:
He separated the two and said both were important. Reflecting on his Sagicor life insurance background, he said recognition stoked competitive fires in people, by giving them the admiration of their peers. Managers were instructed to ensure that good efforts were recognised at the local level and company level.
5. Pride your reputation at all costs:
Frank and straightforward, Byles told the keen listeners that "our capital is our reputation", and told the group to protect theirs at all costs and to stay humble.
In a wide-ranging interactive session that closed the lecture, Byles explained how he maintained his work/life balance with an answer that sent ripples through the audience. He gets up at 3:30 a.m. and typically is in office at 5 a.m. That allows him to get home at 5:30 p.m. and to spend time with his family.
The next lecture in the Digicel Extraordinary Leadership series is set for January 26, 2014.