A colleague of mine recently extolled “Anybody can be a leader – all you need is an idea and the ability to influence people” (1)
“Hmmm that rules out about 95% of us.“ I responded jokingly.
My colleague’s comment was delivered during a hugely successful Leadership Development programme and was supported by a lucid case in support of her assertion. I was initially drawn by the simplicity of the statement but over the last week or so I have returned to it repeatedly as I mulled over the skills that are required to fulfil the needs that underpin this apparently simple statement.
In essence the statement embraces both the internal and external attributes of a leader that are fundamental to the execution of good leadership by any individual.
The creation of an idea that is pertinent to a given situation requires intelligence that is both cognitive and experiential. Cognitive intelligence that draws on the ability to reason, analyse and embrace divergent thinking is combined with the experiential intelligence that delivers engagement through effective communication and relationship building. Whilst it can be reasonably argued that we all possess these attributes to a greater or lesser extent (and indeed we do) it is the combination of a highly developed capability across both perspectives that enables effective leadership to ensue.
The ability to influence on either an individual or collective basis can be viewed as being underpinned to a large degree by the leader’s level of motivation. This motivation provides two independent imperatives.
Firstly, the leader’s motivation delivers a consistency of purpose that yields a focal point for the team of followers; it serves to bring the vision to life. The second facet of the leader’s motivation is to provide the drive to deliver and most importantly also address the many issues that the team will face along the way.
The leader’s ability to influence a positive outcome will also depend on many other attributes including openness, integrity, tolerance, curiosity and a large dose of confidence to boot.
So the ensuing question for many of us is not whether we can be a leader or not it’s more about do we really want to be……
(1) – Dr Sue Bridgewater – Teach First Programme July 2012
“This is my favourite time in any change management project. We’ve gone live and the organisation is beginning to find its feet. It’s fascinating to watch how the new relationships develop, the bonds are created and the whole thing comes to life.”
My partner and I had just left the headquarters of a medium sized group who we had been helping through a major restructuring programme.
“I agree; these are exciting times” I concurred as we drove through their security gates. “I share your fascination with this stage of the process. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the group adapts to the new structure over the next few months. They’ve brought a lot of new people in; some of them in pivotal positions“
The group’s senior management team had embarked on a major restructuring programme some nine months previously against a backdrop of reducing turnover and profitability. Whilst similar downturns had been experienced by the majority of competitors in the sector it seemed that our group had fared worse than the majority. The group had grown both organically and by acquisition over the last 20 years and served a wide range of markets competing primarily on the technical superiority of their products.
“Yes, it’s that part that worries me most” my partner continued. “Their competitive position is driven by their technology edge which is vested in key individuals within the organisation. I’m not convinced that this will be best served by the degree of centralisation that is being proposed”
As with most programmes that are executed in such circumstances the major thrusts were towards increased centralisation to improve control and stripping out several of the smaller non-core businesses to enable the group to focus on the more profitable elements of their portfolio. The group had also recruited several executives into senior leadership positions within the group to bolster what was perceived to be a structural weakness of the existing team.
“I’m still not convinced that the leadership team really understand how their teams function within each company.” my partner continued “The primary influence in the majority of the companies is the technical expert who not only understand the products but can also relate to the markets they serve. These are the people that the teams really trust and look to for guidance not the management team.”
My partner had highlighted a key issue facing the group going forward. The restructuring programme embraced a significant increase in the level of centralised control targeted primarily at increasing profitability through better allocation of resources and leveraging the group’s position to drive down cost. This would inevitably lead to a clash with the existing culture of informal technical leadership within the majority of the group. These largely self-governing groups are the cornerstone of their competitive position.
It looks like it’s going to be an interesting few months…..