Sunday, 11 July 2021




An 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

I 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 different perspective.

*Peer groups and families, management and coaching

I 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 David Cameron.

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.

Servant 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.

It 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

I 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.


Ohh 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;

I 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.

If 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)


*Steve Jobs and Donald Trump, Henry Ford - deeply flawed characters that inspire

So 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.

So 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

There 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

I 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 below.

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 tyrants.

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 colleagues.

Is conviction politics leadship, or myopic? A trait for the strengths-column or the weakness-column.

*Ghandi and Mandela - philosophical characters that challenge thinking

I 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.

Gandhi's 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.

I 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 is not.

*Gareth Southgate - leaders of team behaviour and philosophy

And 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 pursuit.


*Contextual Leadership: Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler

I 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:

Candidate 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.
Candidate C: Is a decorated war hero, a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer, and has had no illicit love affairs.

Which of 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

According 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)

For 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

I 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

The 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:

E and I stand for Extraversion and Introversion—indicating whether you get energy from being around people or from time spent alone.

S 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.

J 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)

These 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.

If 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 leadership.


Businesses 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.


Words 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.

That'll do.


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

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