This Thing Called “Leadership”

The Sir Peter Blake Leadership Awards are announced every June in Leadership Week. For certain magazines and institutes devoted to Leadership, this week is the high point of their year. For example, we at the Institute of Directors make an effort. But, despite increasing publicity over many years, the event, the week and Leadership per se seems to pass unremarked by the business community. So why is Leadership such a yawn for us? I suspect it is because practical people find it too wishy-washy or too big. Broken down into its elements – communicating, decision-making, guiding, directing, motivating, team-building, rewarding and developing people – spins our wheels better.

Some years back, I took myself off to Massey to learn about Leadership Theory. I found it to be a fairly new science comprising dozens of theories, formulated within contexts of sociology, anthropology and behavioural science. Academically challenging, but with some fundamental common sense, such as:

  • Leadership is the process of social influence in which one person enlists the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common purpose
  • Leadership behaviours and skills can be learned
  • There are several successful styles of leadership, depending on the situation and objectives  Basic tests of successful leadership include whether
    • Team members understand and buy into the direction of the organization
    • Teams are effective towards the achievement of organization goals
    • Followers are developed into leaders
    • Motivation, morale and performance are enhanced
  • The followers grant the power of the leader. E.g., today’s generations seem to be best engaged and motivated by a visible, communicative, empowering, ideas-driven leader, whose “big picture” can be delivered by the team.

Interestingly, the literature warns against the charismatic leader whose dominance can lead to autocratic and risky decision-making, to a growth ceiling, and to a vacuum in the succession. More attractive perhaps is the concept of the servant leader, who gives priority to the needs and resources of the organization (human, systemic, financial, physical). This leader is personally humble but tenacious, bold and ambitious in pursuit of the business purpose.

However you lead, may I wish your organization a high-performing year!