The topic of good and bad leadership is never out of the public psyche for long, but it seems even more prevalent in the recent past than usual. First we had the surprising outcome to the UK general election, meaning more than one leadership election will be necessary for political parties. And now, in the past few days, we have witnessed the heightened controversy around Sepp Blatter’s leadership of FIFA.
The topic of leadership – both the good and the bad – resonates with CEDR at the moment, given our current emphasis on negotiation leadership skills. The starting point for any reflection should be looking current thinking, and there is a plethora of excellent material out there on the subject – for example, the book written by Professor Nigel Nicholson of the London Business School’s book “The ‘I’ of Leadership”, which comes to mind as he will be speaking at CEDR’s own leadership event on July 7th at the LCCI (find out more here).
But what is it that makes a good leader? And even more, what makes a great leader?
Being a great dictator
Leadership style is critical, and being confident is usually a virtue. Yet overly-directive leaders not only have to expend vast amounts of energy staying ‘on top’ but are rarely successful in the long term. Ultimately pursuing an overtly directive leadership style cannot create a robust system or structure that perpetuates itself beyond the demise of the leader. With the imminent departure of Sepp Blatter from FIFA, an organisation he has led for many years in his own indomitable style, it will be interesting to see what type of leader and leadership style will now take the helm.
When thinking about line managers I have had in the past, who have ranged from excellent to somewhat lacking, there are common themes which emerge around engagement. A good boss sends messages to their entire team, as well as individuals, which inspire, empower and motivate. It is interesting to reflect on some of the leadership criticism that came out from his own MPs after Ed Miliband lost the General Election, in particular the citing of a lack of messages that could inspire.
Being a great boss is not just about motivation day to day – it is also about leading through the difficult moments – this is where being engaging becomes critical. The best bosses I’ve known have not only had problem-solving outlooks when challenges emerged but they also sought to work collaboratively with their team. Taking a collaborative approach in a crisis widens the sense of ownership for the teams and means everyone pulls together and works harder.
By work collaboratively through a crisis it is possible for a manager to maintain their environment of inspiring, empowering and motivating, and to not lose all the good development work within the team that was there before.
Climbing the mountain
Whereas before, as a young executive, I might have assumed that the majority of the skills to deliver both engagement and collaboration were innately present within good managers, I now understand that it is actually good leadership that creates good leaders.
The majority of good bosses I have observed have undoubtedly learned their skills in collaborating and messaging over time, by observing what works and what doesn’t from the world around them. If everyone took this approach to skills building maybe we would have better leaders and less bad bosses.