On leadership and purpose

What does it take to be a successful leader? This is a subject I have been mulling over, as last month I graduated from the Executive MBA programme at London Business School. And why would anyone who runs a company specialising in development and stabilisation want to do an MBA anyway? At times, with assignments coming thick and fast, I asked myself the same question. 

The simple answer is that as the CEO of ARK, I want our company to be more effective and more efficient, and I don’t believe in being complacent. I realised that even with two Masters degrees, I have a lot to learn, and so back to school I went a little under two years ago. 

Despite working in the main for governmental clients, at ARK our approach mirrors that of the private sector. We place a premium on understanding the environments where we work and the needs of those to whom we are accountable – our staff, partners, donors and beneficiaries. We seek to incubate ideas and we iterate our programmatic responses to scale what works, and stop doing what does not. We have no interest in vanity metrics or public relations stunts. Like a start-up, venture capital fund or impact investor we want to nurture innovative ideas that will deliver measurable impact in the communities in which we work.  

As the business literature tells us, people are motivated by a sense of purpose, the need for autonomy and the mastery of the skills needed to get the job done well. These tenets are central to our approach as an employer and as a company. We want to hear from people who share these values. 

Reflecting on the MBA, it is not the Net Present Value calculation, inventory accounting methodologies or the macroeconomic formulae that I will remember (if I ever knew them!). It is the simple adage that to be a successful leader you must be yourself, but with skills. It is not sufficient to be committed and compassionate, you need to be competent also. And above all else, you need to be authentic, as how else can you expect anyone to respect your leadership otherwise?

Alistair Harris, CEO, ARK



Dom Spiers