Welcome to my regular column titled My Lightbulb Moment, which highlights a "blinding flash of insight" that business, cultural and sports leaders have experienced, and how this changed their lives forever.

Professor Neil Quigley

Growing up in Christchurch, Quigley completed a BA then an MA with first-class honours at the University of Canterbury, then gained a PhD from the University of Toronto.

An economist of international standing, with a long track record of academic and strategic leadership, Quigley holds board and expert advisory group memberships; he is a director of the Reserve Bank and of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and is vice-chancellor of the University of Waikato.


Lightbulb Moment: Don't just be right, model positive leadership

"Some years ago I was assisting a group of officials with a review of a government-funded programme at another university," Quigley says.

"The programme was expensive and required a long-term commitment, so the review potentially had major implications organisation-wide. In the middle of the deliberations, the university's vice-chancellor made an unscripted appearance, making it obvious that his intent was to show support for his staff responsible for the programme under review, highlight that the project was important to the university as a whole, and build goodwill with the reviewers. "I reflected that the vice-chancellor's move was a classy one, demonstrating a strong sense of where his presence would have high impact, and building a positive, supportive relationship with his staff."

Those were valuable lessons in themselves, but the lightbulb moment related to a broader issue. "Here was a rare example of positive leadership where I thought: 'I must remember to do that myself'."

We all know of negative bosses who regularly demonstrate what not to do. Quigley believes "this stems from the all too common narcissistic behaviours of leaders who have not the slightest interest in what their staff think, lack the emotional intelligence to see the link between organisational performance and the creation of a positive and supportive workplace, and live only for power, control and prestige".

It's not just about making the right decisions

"What this means in practice is that I am very conscious that the responsibility of leaders is to model positive cultural values and behaviours, not just to make the right decisions."

As organisational leaders we have a genuine responsibility to our staff, clients and shareholders to take a strong focus towards not only doing the right thing at the right time but also doing it in a way that builds up, not tears down.


If you have had a blinding moment of insight, please email me or share your story on my website.

Tom O'Neil is an award-winning business speaker, best-selling author and managing director of CV.co.nz and TomONeil.com. Contact him at tom@tomoneil.com