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Jo Owen

travels from UK

Award-winning author and serial entrepreneur who started Teach First, a large graduate recruiter and seven other NGOs

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Jo Owen practices what he preaches about leadership. He has started eight NGOs with a combined turnover above $100 million, including Teach First which is now the largest graduate recruiter in the UK. Jo has worked with over 100 of the best, and a few of the worst, organisations on our planet. He was a partner at Accenture; he built a business in Japan; he started a bank, was sued for $12 billion and put the blue speckle in Daz when he started his career at P&G.

Leadership, global teams and tribes.

Jo Owen is a multi-award-winning author and entrepreneur. His books include Global Teams, How to Lead and Tribal Business School. He is the only person to win the CMI Gold Award three times for his writing.

Jo founded Teach First and seven other NGOs with a total turnover of £100m pa. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a few of the worst, organisations on our planet in most industries in Japan, Europe, Asia and North America. He has been a partner at Accenture, started a bank, built a business in Japan and was sued for $12 billion.

As a speaker he has given keynote speeches to Apple, Barclays, BT, CMI, CIPD, EDS, Google, Pearson, RBS, Qualcomm, Skype, Symantec, Unilever and many others. He has featured on the BBC, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Financial Times, Times and several additional magazines & media and has presented two television series on leadership.

Jo Owen speaks on leadership skills and mindsets and global teams in anything from a 20-minute highlight for a large conference to a one-day interactive workshop with smaller groups. His leadership practice is based on what works, not on theory. And he can enliven proceedings up by exploring leadership through the eyes of tribal people, based on his work over ten years with tribes from Mali to Mongolia, the Arctic to Australia via Papua New Guinea and beyond.

Jo holds an MA from Cambridge University, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Companion of the Chartered Management Institute. He was awarded the OBE for starting Teach First, a leading educational charity. Last but not least, he was the best nappy salesman in Birmingham and was responsible for putting the blue speckle in Daz.


See keynotes with Jo Owen

    Speaker Jo Owen Keynote Topics

    • Leadership fundamentals
    • 21st Century Leadership: how to succeed in the new world
    • Hybrid, smart, remote teams: sustaining high performance in the new world of work
    • Tribal Business School: learning to survive from traditional societies
    • Global Teams: how they work and how they can work better
    • Resilience and intrinsic motivation for you and your team.
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Basics of leadership by speaker Jo Owen

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Global Leaders: The 21st Century Challenge

Everything is harder on a global team, and that is very good news.

On a global team you have to trust people to make decisions while you sleep; you cannot see who is under pressure and who is cruising; communication is harder and misunderstanding is easier. You have to be able to influence people and decisions who you do not control and you do not see, and they do not even think the same way as you.

This means that if you can lead a global team, you can lead any team. Even better, the skills you learn on leading a global team are exactly the skills which a 21st century leader needs. In the 20th century, leaders had to make things happen through people they controlled. Now, leaders have to make things happen through people they do not control. That is the result of outsourcing, specialisation and increasingly flat organisations where your colleagues are also your competitors: they are fighting for the same limited pot of budgets, management support and promotions. Even if you have power, professionals do not like being managed and probably think that they could do your job better than you can.

21st century leaders, and global team leaders, have to learn how to lead people they do not control. That requires not just a new skill set, but also a new mindset. Leaders have to

– move from building control to commitment;

– build networks of trust and respect, not personal fiefdoms;

– be comfortable with ambiguity and see risk as opportunity;

– influence people and decisions;

– know when and how to fight the right battles

These new skills have two common characteristics: no one teaches them, and technology is part of the problem, not the solution. The first person to work out how to motivate people globally by email will make a fortune: it is a fortune which is unlikely to be made. Despite that, many leaders still think that the global email or video is good communication. It is not. The curse of the 21st Century is that we communicate more than ever, but we understand each other as little as ever.

Good communication builds more than understanding; it builds trust and commitment. Trust and commitment can only be built face to face. That means you have to buy the plane ticket and go and meet your team. Even better, have the global conference and make sure there is plenty of time for socialising across borders. Humans are social animals, and we need to build the social bonds of trust to work well together.

Leading a global team may be extreme leadership, but it is also the gateway to learning how to lead in the 21st Century.

Leadership & Management: The Ultimate Distinction

Many people write about leadership and management, but few dare to define either. And if you cannot define leadership or management, then literally you do not know what you are talking about.

There have been many attempts to define leadership and management. Most fail to stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Fortunately, I have the only statistical proven difference between leadership and management. Here it is:

Leadership sells more books

I know this, because I am the author of How to Lead and How to Manage (soon to run in their fifth edition and published by Pearson). Put leadership in the title and you sell three times as many books.

This is a disaster: it devalues both leadership and management. If everyone claims they are a leader, then the idea of leadership is devalued into nothing. It becomes synonymous with work. If no one wants to be called a manager, then that devalues management. This is a tragedy, because management is seriously hard work and no leader can succeed without great managers.

So how can we define leadership? The only good definition I have found, I stole from Henry Kissinger. I do not know who he stole it from. In his words: “leaders take people where they would not have got by themselves.”

At first reading, my inclination was to turn the page or go to sleep: it sounds very dull and boring. But this is Kissinger, so it must be deceptively simple. And it is deceptively simple.

Kissinger’s definition of leadership means that there are many people with grand leadership titles who are not leading. You can probably think of such people, maybe called CEO or President or Prime Minister who are in post, but not in power: they manage a legacy and drift with the tide. Equally, you can find plenty of people lower down who do not have grand titles, but they are still leading: they are changing the way their business, function or team works and taking it where it would not have got by itself. They do not drift, they take people where they would not have got by themselves. In other words, they lead.

Leadership is not about your title; it is about what you do. You can be a leader at any level of your firm. And if you are not leading, celebrate the fact that you are managing. Leaders may change the world, but managers make the world work before and after the revolution.

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Keynote topics with Jo Owen