Good Leaders are Scarce

The Blake Medallist for 2015 is Rob Fenwick, “New Zealand’s foremost statesman of sustainability and the environment and an exceptional leader and motivator in business and governance”. In my humble opinion, as worthy a Medallist as any of the eleven honoured to date. Acknowledged alongside Rob were seven younger Blake Leaders, each displaying remarkable achievements and potentials. But the Blake Awards and similar selections mislead us – overall we are pretty mediocre at leadership.

Societies rightly demand competent, honest leadership, and become passionate and vocal when it goes missing. The shortcomings of political, community, iwi or business leaders are always a hot media topic. Letters, blogs, talkbacks, TV channels and newspapers all burn with indignation at weak, deceitful, unprincipled, hypocritical, troughing or just plain crooked leaders.

The concept of the principled, unselfish servant leader went Missing in Action just after WW11. Overtaken by Me-First Boomers – we who don’t understand that Freedom comes with Responsibility. So the traditional church and community engagement, the societies and lodges, the sports clubs and volunteer service are fading away. And with them, the values of a less selfish, less strident age. Hardly surprising that our Mayors and Councillors disappoint.

So, to Business. Trouble is……… there is a direct correlation between good leadership and good results. High business performance depends on Leadership more than any other factor. More than a focus on Strategy, Customers, People, Operations, Systems or Measurement. (see, etc). We know that our growth, productivity and living standards are falling short of our aspirations and benchmarks. If we exclude societal drags on prosperity such as the uneducated young (no NCEA2), I hazard that this in large part is because we have not developed our business skills, especially leadership. I believe that urban New Zealand is underperforming commercially because we have this yawning gap in our work competencies.

I am referring not only to the Board, MD and Senior Management Team – to find leading hands, supervisors, foremen and department managers that really know how to lead and to take responsibility is a surprise and pleasure.

Evidence via reading, personal observation and anecdote: –

  • Boards realizing that they have neglected to maintain a leadership capability at all levels, which is now stultifying operational performance and achievement of goals.
  • Senior managers lacking skills in planning, communication, coaching, delegating, instructing, monitoring, reviewing and disciplining.
  • Leaders unable to communicate the Business Purpose and the WIIFM to their teams, so no Buy-in.
  • Leaders not keeping current – in professional skills, technology, R&D, risk, international trends, and Next Generation thinking.
  • Businesses setting up serious OD and management development programmes in-house. (after a 40 year hiatus?).
  • Tertiary education playing catch-up – in leadership, governance and management programmes.
  • Constant recruiting disappointments, where proven leadership capability is missing from all applicants’ CVs.

Each one of us can lead better. A suggestion is to make improvement of our own Leadership Skills a must for our Continuing Professional Development.