WHAT IS LEADERSHIP - CHARACTER, CONTEXT, CIRCUMSTANCES AND COMPETENCE
MBA student was asked to list two strengths and a weakness in their
leadership. As I thought about this question and the possible answers I
realised that the question was flawed. Indeed I feel it indicates a
complete misunderstanding of leadership and in this article I will try
and explain why.
*I am not a fan of leadership which is often ego-driven, celebrity, wealth accumulation
have always been curious about those who pursue leadership. I have a
sense that many who pursue leadership (especially politics) are exactly
the people who should not. The 'look at me' and 'win at any cost' types
who will change the principles, values and rhetoric to suit the Board or
the Electorate. I am reminded of Groucho Marx Quote ... I refuse to
join any club that would have me as a member.
So in this
context writing about the value of leadership and leadership traits may
be mor challenging, but hopefully more insightful coming from a
*Peer groups and families, management and coaching
am not anti-leadership, but I see it in very different terms from the
mainstream 1950s to 2010 view. I think post globalisation, Brexit,
covid, climate change and a whole host of other social-political changes
a different view is emerging.
You mother, father, friends and
family may not be wealthy or eilte. You probably don't address them as
Sir and Ma'm and yet these are your formative leaders. People may look
to the person on the podium, or the statute on the column, but real
change and influence comes from close ties and peer groups. The leaders
of your life are probably the 5 people that you have spent most time
with rather than the chance meeting with Prime Ministers Tony Blair or
I think teachers and coaches have an important
role. This is the type of leadership that creates the right environment,
nurtures thinking, encourages challenge. This 'Servant Leadership' has
been often under-rated, but the fact that it now has a name and
definition suggests that it is on the rise.
You’re not the
average of the FIVE people you surround with. It’s way bigger than that.
You’re the average of all the people who surround you. So take a look
around and make sure you’re in the right surroundings.
leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the goal of the leader is
to serve. ... Servant leadership inverts the norm, which puts the
customer service associates as a main priority. Instead of the people
working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people.
is not new. Serve to Lead is the official text studied by all Officer
Cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. References, quotations,
advice on Morale, Leadership, Discipline, the British Soldier, Man
Management, Duty and Service, and Courage.
Sandhurst maintains a
tradition of leadership , which is ambiguously summed up by the
academies motto: Serve to Lead, one of which has survived through time
and change because of the basic principle that an officer is a leader.
I highly recommend the book Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling Paperback by Edgar H. Schein
also recommend reading about Mission Command which is more about
Outcome than Oratory. Mission-type tactics, is a form of military
tactics where the emphasis is on the outcome of a mission rather than
the specific means of achieving it. US Colonel Sean Parkes suggests
Mission command is the empowerment of leaders and followers to execute
intent-based planning and is underpinned by trust, disciplined
initiative and risk management. ... Notably, a true mission command
climate generates a high-performance climate.
I am reminded of
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins' Eve-of-Battle Speech: 'We go to
liberate, not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We
are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be
flown in that ancient land is their own. ... Iraq is steeped in history.
WHAT ARE THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOOD LEADERSHIP
there are so many: 1. Integrity; 2. Innovative; 3. Honesty; 4. Active
Listening; 5. Self-Confidence; 6. Visionary; 7. Strong Communicator; 8.
Delegation; 9. Decision-making Skill; 10. Problem-Solving Skills; 11.
Fair Attitude; 12. Inquisitiveness; 13. Self-motivated; 14. Humility;
15. Care for Others; 16. Self-Discipline; 17. Emotional Intelligence;
18. Passion; 19. Resilience; 20. Accountability; 21. Supportive; 22.
Tech-savvy; 23. Empathy; 24. Learning Agility; 25. Empowerment;
can add little value in this area, social media, books and search
engines are bursting with lists and advice. I have read possibly
hundreds of books on philosophy, history, change, technology and
leadership with all sorts of ideas, icons and instruction.
you are planning to start a small library on this topic this is a good
book to have in your collection Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade
Secrets of Leadership Book by Eve Poole
However the sales
people for MBAs, Executive Leadership Programmes may sell you a
sanitised version of leadership with simple guides and checklists but it
it not all like William Shakespeare's Henry V: Once more unto the
breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English
dead [...] Follow your spirit, and upon this charge. Cry 'God for Harry,
England, and Saint George!' (spoken by King Henry)
THEORY DOES NOT MATCH REALITY
*Steve Jobs and Donald Trump, Henry Ford - deeply flawed characters that inspire
the theory is leadership is good, and leaders are good guys? Maybe not.
Maybe leadership is getting things done, but they may not be great
people to work for. To ensure no one could recreate the Taj Mahal’s
beauty, Shah Jahan supposedly severed the hands and gouged the eyes of
the artisans and craftsmen. Steve Jobs could use his reality distortion
field (ways of thinking and talking) to appropriate others' ideas as
his own, sometimes proposing an idea back to its originator, only a week
after dismissing it. At one time 50% of America believe Donald Trump is
their preferred leader, despite being an alleged liar, racist,
misogynist etc. Henry Ford may have automated car production (and
people) - "You don't think of Hitler having a portrait of Henry Ford on
his office wall in Munich." (Miriam Kleinman, a researcher with the
Washington law firm of Cohen, Millstein and Hausfeld) He is the only
American whom Adolf Hitler compliments by name in Mein Kampf.
when my MBA student friend writes about two strengths and a weakness in
their leadership, would the above characters be role models for the
former or the latter.
*Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos - technology and technocrats leaders
is no doubt that these are amongst the cleverest people alive. They
have used their genius and vision to make vast wealth and applied some
of that wealth to projects which may or many not benefit mankind
depending on your perspective.
As of 2018, Bill and Melinda
Gates had donated around $36 billion to the foundation.The primary
stated goals of the foundation are to enhance healthcare and reduce
extreme poverty across the world, and to expand educational
opportunities and access to information technology in the U.S. Key.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have ostensibly replaced the US and USSR in the
space-race, but is this self indulgent big boys toys, or something
critical to the advancement of humanity?
In this context
Leadership appears to be how you accumulate and use your wealth. There
is perhaps some over-lap with the previous grouping but I suspect the
power of technology (to persuade, market, sell, influence) is going to
be an increasing feature of leadership, a fact not lost on Dominic
Cummings, Brittany Kaiser or Cambridge Analytica.
Are these the
new leaders, those that have mastered technology and data to sell or
manipulate? When my MBA student friend writes about two strengths and a
weakness in their leadership, should Dominic Cummings, Brittany Kaiser
or Jeff Basos be top of their list?
*Margaret Thatcher - ideological characters that don't listen
am not an historian, but I have noted that the British seem to swig the
pendulum between strong authoritative leaders and more conciliatory
types who are often a compromise candidate after a period of turmoil.
John Major followed Margaret Thatcher, Gordon Brown followed Toney
Blair and the 'weak' Theresa May was followed by the 'charismatic' Boris
Johnson. I will explore contingent and contextual leadership further
Was Margaret Thatcher a great leader? I think so, but I
know plenty who would disagree and have good evidence to support their
view. However there are plenty of occasions when people have sought,
supported, elected and followed the strong willed or indeed outright
Thatcher’s confidence in her ideals was
characteristic of her prime ministerial tenure, and it caused her to run
a government based on conviction politics – in other words, driven
primarily on her own values. However, some political commentators have
argued that this approach is eventually what led to her
downfall.Following a slew of economic problems and unpopular policies,
including the infamous Poll Tax, Thatcher decided to resign after it
became obvious that she had lost the support of her Cabinet and closest
Is conviction politics leadship, or myopic? A trait for the strengths-column or the weakness-column.
*Ghandi and Mandela - philosophical characters that challenge thinking
am cautious here, because I do not know either sufficiently well to be
authoritative, but at the same time it would be a terrible omission not
to include them in an essay or article about leadership.
leadership role was extremely complex. Knowing that violence only
begets violence, he began practicing passive resistance, Satyagraha.
Mahatma Gandhi was a leader that brought one of the world's most
powerful nations to its knees... by using peace, love and integrity as
his method for change.
In 1943, Mandela met Anton Lembede, an
ANC member affiliated with the "Africanist" branch of African
nationalism, which was virulently opposed to a racially united front
against colonialism and imperialism or to an alliance with the
communists. Despite his friendships with white people, people of colour,
and communists, Mandela believed that Black Africans should be entirely
independent in their struggle for political self-determination. After
taking part in the unsuccessful protest to prevent the forced relocation
of all Black people from the Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg in
February 1955, Mandela concluded that violent action would prove
necessary to end apartheid and white minority rule. US President Ronald
Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; both considered
Mandela's ANC a terrorist organisation sympathetic to communism, and
supported its suppression. Mandela served 27 years in prison, split
between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. Amid
growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil
war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk
led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the
1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to
victory and became president.
It is a cliché to say One Man's
Terrorist another Man's Freedom Fighter? The guerrilla fighter's
targets are military ones, while the terrorist deliberately targets
civilians. By this definition, a terrorist organization can no longer
claim to be 'freedom fighters' because they are fighting for national
liberation or some other worthy goal.
History is an interesting
judge of character (and leadership) and despite protestations to the
contrary we are always re-wring history by the way we edit books, tear
down statues and reinterpret events or reconcile old enemies.
would be on the wrong side of history to suggest that these men were
not great leaders but ostensibly they were opposites for the same ends.
This furthering my view that leadership is not one thing (practicing
passive resistance) or another (freedom fighter) but like water always
changing in form (ice, sea, stream, clouds, rain). It is therefore to
nebulous for us to asset that one approach is leadership and other other
*Gareth Southgate - leaders of team behaviour and philosophy
so to the latest icon of leadership: Gareth Southgate. I like him, but
ironically because he is less like a leader and more like an elder. I
like him because appears to me to be managing and supporting his team
with a focus on them rather then himself. I have often suggested
leadership is over-hyped and management or coaching (helping people
complete tasks and achieve their goals) is a humbler but more noble
*Contextual Leadership: Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler
met an HR Leadership Trainer who told me that "Leaders are born, not
made" which I found ironic since their professional as a trainer was
about helping, supporting guiding people to become leaders. If they are
really born with innate talent why bother with education or experience?
Let’s imagine: It’s time to elect a world leader, and your vote counts. Which would you choose:
A: Associates with ward healers and consults with astrologists; has had
two mistresses; chain-smokes and drinks eight to ten martinis a day.
Candidate B: Was kicked out of office twice; sleeps until noon; used opium in college; drinks a quart of brandy every evening.
C: Is a decorated war hero, a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an
occasional beer, and has had no illicit love affairs.
these candidates is your choice? You don’t really need any more
information, do you? ; Candidate A is Franklin Roosevelt. Candidate B is
Winston Churchill. Candidate C is Adolf Hitler.
I do believe
leadership is contextual, nature, nurture, education and experience are
key factors is is history and opportunity. Winston Churchill and Adolf
Hitler would be my examples.
I aim to read Hitler and Churchill. Secrets of Leadership by Andrew Roberts
*Goleman's leadership styles and Belbin Team Types
to Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, there are six
emotional leadership styles – Authoritative, Coaching, Affiliative,
Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coercive. Each style has a different effect
on the emotions of the people that you're leading.
Pacesetting - “Do it my way”
Commanding - “Do it because I say so”
Visionary - “Let’s remind ourselves of the larger purpose”
Affiliative -“People first, task second”
Democratic - “Let’s work it out together”
Coaching - “Let me help you develop”
The nine Belbin team roles
The Monitor Evaluator (thought-oriented)
The Specialist (thought-oriented)
The Plant (thought-oriented)
The Shaper (action-oriented)
The Implementer (action-oriented)
The Completer/Finisher (action-oriented)
The Coordinator (people-oriented)
The Team Worker (people-oriented)
The Resource Investigator (people-oriented)
me these are critically important to context, because the right
combination or leadership style, role and context is rather like a
chemical reaction. Perhaps nothing will happen, or something completely
transformative will happen.
*Personality Types - MBTI, DISC and Ocean-Big5
think it is important here to consider personality type, when thinking
about leadership style. This may be interesting because there are many
self assessment personality type quizzed on-line which may be
interesting to the reader.
The best know is Myers Brigges MBTI
Myers–Briggs Type Indicator is an introspective self-report
questionnaire indicating differing psychological preferences in how
people perceive the world and make decisions. The test attempts to
assign four categories: introversion or extraversion, sensing or
intuition, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving.
The MBTI instrument has four sets of letters:
and I stand for Extraversion and Introversion—indicating whether you
get energy from being around people or from time spent alone.
and N stand for Sensing and Intuition—indicating whether you become
aware of specific facts and concrete details or prefer to focus on
hunches and the big picture.
T and F stand for Thinking and
Feeling—indicating whether you tend to make decisions based on logical
analysis and the principles involved or prefer to decide by considering
your values and promoting harmony for the people involved.
and P stand for Judging and Perceiving—indicating whether you prefer
your life to be planned and like it when things are decided or prefer to
go with the flow and like keeping your options open.
There are broadly 16 personality types.
Analysts Architect INTJ-A / INTJ-T Imaginative and strategic thinkers, with a plan for everything.
Logician INTP-A / INTP-T Innovative inventors with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Commander ENTJ-A / ENTJ-T Bold, imaginative and strong-willed leaders, always finding a way – or making one.
Debater ENTP-A / ENTP-T Smart and curious thinkers who cannot resist an intellectual challenge.
Diplomats Advocate INFJ-A / INFJ-T Quiet and mystical, yet very inspiring and tireless idealists.
Mediator INFP-A / INFP-T Poetic, kind and altruistic people, always eager to help a good cause.
Protagonist ENFJ-A / ENFJ-T Charismatic and inspiring leaders, able to mesmerize their listeners.
Campaigner ENFP-A / ENFP-T Enthusiastic, creative and sociable free spirits, who can always find a reason to smile.
Sentinels Logistician ISTJ-A / ISTJ-T Practical and fact-minded individuals, whose reliability cannot be doubted.
Defender ISFJ-A / ISFJ-T Very dedicated and warm protectors, always ready to defend their loved ones.
Executive ESTJ-A / ESTJ-T Excellent administrators, unsurpassed at managing things – or people.
Consul ESFJ-A / ESFJ-T Extraordinarily caring, social and popular people, always eager to help.
Explorers Virtuoso ISTP-A / ISTP-T Bold and practical experimenters, masters of all kinds of tools.
Adventurer ISFP-A / ISFP-T Flexible and charming artists, always ready to explore and experience something new.
Entrepreneur ESTP-A / ESTP-T Smart, energetic and very perceptive people, who truly enjoy living on the edge.
Entertainer ESFP-A / ESFP-T Spontaneous, energetic and enthusiastic people – life is never boring around them.
DISC is simpler (and therefore more popular) summarising people as follows.
D- Direct Demanding Decisive Determined Doer NT TASK OUTGOING
I- Influencing Impressionable Interactive Impressive NF PEOPLE OUTGOING
S- Supportive Stable Steady Sweet SF, PEOPLE, RESERVED
C- Calculating Competent Conscientious Contemplative ST, TASK, RESERVED
Note the links to MBTI using the letters N, T, S and F to note preferences
The Big Five personality traits is a suggested taxonomy, or grouping, for personality traits
The theory identifies five factors OCEAN:
openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious)
conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless)
extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved)
agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational)
neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident)
are simple lists to remind the informed, but there is a lot to discover
and I would encourage anyone to read and self-test, perhaps using
on-line tools. It can be revelatory. All the above inform us about
ourselves and others and our tendency to like or loath, lead or follow.
Whereas the above may
indicate our personality, leadning style or role preferences (which
clearly are not the same, but do inter-relate) it is important to
consider how we came to these.
For the sake of brevity I will
point to a previous article. In this article I explore attachment
theory; maternal deprivation and social isolation; mental
representations and working models; patterns of attachment; romantic
partners; and resilience. I also include a section for self assessment,
recommended books and references.
you look at the biographies and histories of any of the above named
leaders it is clear that family, culture and community are big factors
in their nature and nurture which have shaped their attitude and
FAMILY THERAPY AND PSYCHODYANMICS
and Organisations are often like dysfunctional families, you don't
usually get to choose your circumstances and somehow have to get along.
Also Businesses and Organisations are often the places where people act
our their dreams or fears, talent or fantasy. It may be useful
therefore to explore family therapy as a model for organisations and a
useful perspective for leadership.
For the sake of brevity I
will point to a previous article. In this article I explore management
models for teams, alignment, communication, productivity and also some
models from psychodynamics, family therapy and resources useful to
understand relationships and their affect on the whole system.
SO WHAT IS A GOOD LEADER
change meanings over time. To be "Sick" was to be ill or unwell. Now
for some "If it's really cool, it's sick". To any faith-based person
that you walked up to and said 'man, you're wicked!', that goes against
the whole belief system that they've been striving to be, yet for some
it means "Impressive"
Maybe leadership is simply the new word
for good management, slightly over-hyped in the same way that to be good
was acceptable but nowadays in the competition for attention everyone
has to be awesome!
Good leadership is what happens when the
square pegs find themselves square holes, or round pegs round holes. It
is not about being square or being round and so therein the pretext of
seeking two strengths and a weakness in our leadership is deeply flawed
because the behaviours, traits and beliefs are simply "you" and
leadership is "you in the context" of other people.
For me, it is competence at understanding yourself, circumstance, and supporting people achieve their goals.
LINKS AND REFERENCES
You Are The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With
You’re NOT The Average Of The Five People You Surround Yourself With
The Language of Mission Command and the Necessity of an Historical Approach
Why People Are Drawn to Narcissists Like Donald Trump
How American Icon Henry Ford Fostered Anti-Semitism
Margaret Thatcher: Leadership skills of the Iron Lady
Defining Terrorism: Is One Man's Terrorist another Man's Freedom Fighter?
Gareth Southgate leadership
Words and Meanings
Secrets of Leadership: Hitler and Churchill
Adolf Hitler And Winston Churchill
Daniel Goleman Leadership Styles
The Nine Belbin Team Roles