What do you think of when you hear the word “leader”? Maybe images of Napoleon come to mind, a leader whose style might be more authoritative than democratic, or perhaps your visions are more along the lines of those of Ghandi, a man known for peaceful protesting and community involvement. The good, the bad, and the ugly of leadership all come in a number of different shapes and sizes – but what are some of the defining qualities of great leaders? Led by Sir Peter Middleton (chair of Marsh UK and former chair of CEDR), a panel of four experts, including Helen Dodds of Standard Chartered Bank, Mark Goyder of Tomorrow’s Company, Dr Karl Mackie CBE of CEDR, and Nigel Nicholson of London Business School discussed their visions of winning leadership at last night’s anniversary seminar, entitled “What does winning look like?”
Rather than being put in labelled boxes defined by leading style, as mentioned earlier with Napoleon and Ghandi, and which could be further done ad nauseam with the thousands of various leaders of the past millennia, we might instead choose to look at the individual characteristics of a leader as a new sort of rubric to use in judging their added value to a group. It is, of course, the individual elements added together to bring a ruler from “good” to “great”, thus making these the most important elements of analysis.
Sir Peter Middleton emphasised the difficulty of choosing a leader – perhaps one of the most important decisions a group can make. The different themes of analysis last night discussion made some interesting points. Style is important: a leader must be willing to lead by action – and yet must also trust his or her compatriots to perform their own tasks without micromanaging. The identity of a leader is important – some people are suited to certain situations, and not to others. A leader is additionally capable of seeing situations in different ways, and is further able to reframe circumstances to change the view of another party, as would be the case of a negotiation.
There are a handful of companies in Japan that have been around for over one thousand years, and their common denominator, aside from originating as family companies, is a strong set of core values – another defining trait of great leadership. The newer generation wants to work on something they believe in, making the mission statement of a company that much stronger. Without defining the values of a company, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine a direction in which to go. Finally, strong leadership should be capable of managing conflict in a productive and decisive manner, with a bias toward compromise and collaboration in order to bring out the best from a situation.
A seemingly appropriate conclusion to the evening revealed that regardless of any of the above factors, leadership must have a purpose – and it must be an exciting one. Without a purpose, a leader cannot exist. Whether it is an army marching to battle, a new company launch, or a CEO bringing his team to a business negotiation, without a purpose, those leaders can’t do their jobs at all.
CEDR wishes to thank all of those involved in making the evening’s event a successful one.