Leading by example

Follow
my leader used to be the edict in the ruthless Thatcher days.  But, discovers Caroline Horn, leadership has
changed radically in the past 20 years and these changes can be used to predict
appropriate leadership styles for the future

Demands
on today’s leaders are significantly tougher than just a few decades ago, and
will undoubtedly become more so. The business world is increasingly complex and
its leaders are expected to fulfil a growing list of competencies. In addition
to nigh-on prophetic strategic vision and the ability to communicate that
vision, they are required to have an instinctive grasp for people management –
in today’s working environment, few people are willing to work for someone whom
they perceive to be a bully or emotionally crippled.

It
is all a long way from the 1970s and ’80s, says Professor John Potter,
Professor of Strategic Leadership at the Centre for Leadership Studies, Exeter
University. "In the past, when you had family businesses and large
corporates, managers would crack the whip and people would obey out of fear –
they were more willing to toe the line. But huge societal shifts have changed
all that.

"Within
the general population, a lot of people have done very well financially. During
the 1980s and ’90s, more people started to own their own property, and their
net asset value has increased to the point where they don’t have to stay in a
job they hate – they can go and be a taxi driver instead. People are also more
acceptant of transition and mobility and if they are in a job that makes them
unhappy, they are more willing to move on." (Many of these issues are
explored in his report, Intelligent Leadership, Creating a Passion for Change,
co-authored with Alan Hooper.)

Corporates,
ever more aware of the value of their human resources, have had to adapt to
such changes and to develop better strategies that will keep their experienced
and talented staff. Such shifts have been reflected in changing leadership
practices – an area where there has been significant development in the last
couple of decades.

The
late ’80s, under the political stewardship of Margaret Thatcher, was
characterised  by command and control
leadership during a period in which traditional corporations such as Marks
& Spencer and banking institutions thrived. But this was also a time of
change and confrontation –  be it with
trade unions, teachers or single mothers – and there was increasing criticism
of what was perceived to be a divided society. While champagne flowed in the
City and the "fat cats" in the recently privatised utilities thrived,
elsewhere workers faced below-inflation pay rises and often poor working
conditions. The media took up the challenge.

Roger
Gill, director of the research centre at the Leadership Trust, says,
"While Thatcher had many elements of transformational leadership in terms
of vision, strategies and a strong sense of corporate values, towards the end
of her era she became a weak leader because her vision wasn’t shared by
everyone."

The
last few years of the 20th century were characterised  by increasing change and cynicism, says Charles Collingwood, head
of the Industrial Society’s Campaign for Leadership. "Leadership changed
as organisations changed. Command and control was no longer appropriate for
flatter organisations and ‘liberated’ or ‘transformational’ leadership took its
place."

In
his Essays on Leadership, published by the Leadership Trust, Gill defines the
characteristics of transformational leadership. "Transformational leaders
use intellectual stimulation. They question the status quo and encourage
imagination and creativity. They use and encourage intuition as well as logic.
They create inspirational motivation. They communicate a clear vision of the
possible future. They align organisational and personal goals so that people
can achieve their personal goals by achieving organisational goals. And they
write and speak in an appealing and exciting way."

During
that turbulent era, other business leaders started to emerge with these kinds
of qualities. Anita Roddick, founder of the Bodyshop, linked a strong value
system with her business practice, and communicated that vision. Sir Richard
Branson, head of the Virgin Group, is renowned for his vision and
entrepreneurship. Gill adds, "He also shows emotional intelligence and is
highly regarded by his staff – he takes an interest in his staff at all levels."

There
are many different reasons why today’s businesses today require such different
skills, says Potter of the Centre for Leadership Studies. "There are several
issues involved today. Every organisation is finding it more difficult to do
what it did 10 or 20 years ago in terms of just running its business – whether
it’s because of increasing competition, litigation, or globalisation."

He
adds that the perception of big business is also very different. "On an
individual level, people are getting disillusioned with organisations that 30
years ago they would have been proud to work for. And there is a high degree of
suspicion of what large organisations are doing – look at the activities of
anarchists and the May Day protests. It used to be that people would be queuing
up to get into BP or Marks & Spencer, and they’d be highly regarded if they
got through the door. Now people are suspicious of those organisations."

But
above all is the issue of change, says Gill of the Leadership Trust. "One
of the biggest problems facing business today is the turbulence, especially
among the newly developing industries. This business climate requires people
who can see beyond the immediate clouds of doubt and can have a vision of what
can be and communicate that to get people through the insecurities. They need
to have a vision of what can be and lead people through."

Today,
competencies – be it emotional intelligence or strategic thinking – are central
to leadership development, while leadership – rather than management – is seen
as pivotal to organisational development. The Civil Service has recently
initiated a long-term programme of change based around a new kind of leadership,
says Ewart Wooldridge, director and principal at the Civil Service College.
"The whole five-year programme is based on a shift in competencies which
are seen as crucial to leadership. This is a significant cultural change within
the Civil Service, a shift to a more proactive stance in which leadership is
seen as central." These changes can’t be divorced from other changes
across the NHS, education and police.

These
developments are reflected in a very different political scene from that of the
1980s. Prime Minister Tony Blair has displayed many of the qualities required
of today’s new-style of leader, says Gill. "A lot of his behaviour through
the 1997 election was very appealing and inspiring. His vision of New Labour,
New Britain held a promise of an attractive future and the way he talks has,
over the years, inspired a vision of something better,"- although, he
adds, issues of empowerment and criticisms that he has failed to deliver his
strategy and promises have clouded this initial promise. But it is a very
different approach from that employed by Thatcher.

Within
today’s Civil Service, says Wooldridge, "We are moving away from
hierarchical, top-down leadership to one that is responsive, self-aware and
team-based. One is looking for a style of leadership that’s based on a greater
responsiveness to a team, and self- awareness." Other competencies are
also being sought, including a more entrepreneurial and creative style of
leadership. "We are shifting away from transactional leadership and maintenance
to leadership of change and motivation."

The
Ashridge Centre for Business and Society has just established a new programme
that will bring together young managers from a variety of different backgrounds
– business, government and the not-for-profit sector – to explore their values
and what these mean for leadership. The project is funded by the Sir
Christopher Harding Legacy Project. Harding was known as a leader who was keen
to develop people, while ensuring organisations faced their social and
environmental responsibilities.

Business
success, says ACBAS director Andrew Wilson, can no longer be measured just on
reports and accounts but on a company’s responsibilities to wider society.
"The notion that business can survive and prosper in an unhealthy society
is no longer tenable. The health and wellbeing of society is linked to the
wellbeing of companies – among other things it helps them to attract investors
and customers.

"There
are a lot of high-profile incidents of people campaigning against companies
exploiting people, animals or the environment. People are saying, ‘that’s not
acceptable business practice’. And young leaders are saying, ‘If I want to be
successful in business, do I have to put my values to one side and become
self-interested?’ We want this programme to show that people don’t need to do
that."

Businesses
can work together to find collaborative solutions to society’s problems, across
private business, government and voluntary sectors, says Wilson. "We are
bringing in tomorrow’s leaders from different sectors and showing that people
operate under different considerations and have differing ways of dealing with
the problems and that creative solutions can be found to business issues."

Wooldridge
adds that many of the competencies sought from today’s leaders are to do with
crossing boundaries – private and public, for example. "This is a long-
lasting trend and we can only predict more and more complex organisations
requiring cross-organisational  leadership.
We won’t change from that because that is the way society is going and way we
are going."

As
well as changes in organisational structures and society, new technologies are
also impacting on leadership, says Wooldridge. "Information and
communication technologies are joining up, and the whole issue of how we work
is becoming more significant. Technology is an opportunity, particularly where
you have the question of work-life balance, but it also a greater challenge to
lead people who are dispersed. It is one of the issues of leadership style. A leader
is there to give a clear sense of direction and to motivate people towards that
and achieve it and the more the workforce is dispersed, the harder it is."

As
a result of all these changes, Potter says that our future leaders will need to
have abilities in three key areas. "The level of intellectual capability
will need to be higher – leaders will need to be more intelligent and handle
complexity and ambiguity better than in the past. They will also need a core
competence of seeing the big picture, being able to focus on the detail, and
then go back to the big picture and work with both. And emotional intelligence
will be more important."

Changing
demands on leadership are inevitably impacting on HR departments, which are
facing their own challenges, says Gill. "HR departments have to be
proactive in the issue of management training. They really have to try to set
an example, ‘walk the talk’. They can’t possibly encourage something they don’t
display and that’s a tall order."

They
also have to help in the process of identifying potential leaders and
developing them. "Leadership development has replaced management
development today, and that’s where it can serve a facilitative role to find
leaders of the future," says Gill. "HR must, must be involved in succession
planning and strategic planning at board level because the people element is
more important than every before."

HR
departments need to be proactive in ensuring they are in position to help
define that strategy, says Terry Bates, senior consultant for Penna Executive
Coaching. "The chief executive has to set the scene, and unless the board
is behind the development, it won’t be as useful. The HR director has a
critical role in showing the people side of the equation and helping the board
to recognise that they can be part of the problem.

"HR
has to get the board to sit down and think about what style it wants. Any
leadership development has to be in the context of a company’s strategy, so
companies can’t just assume that the latest model will be appropriate."

And,
he adds, "There still seems to be a great desire that, somewhere, there
exists a Holy Grail of leadership."

Inspiring
visions of leadership

"All
studies of successful organisations show that strong leadership is essential to
achieve change. We need leaders at all levels, but particularly at the top, who
are committed to transforming their organisations, have a clear sense of
direction, purpose and values, and inspire and motivate those they work with."

Sir
Richard Wilson, Cabinet Secretary, Head of the Civil Service.

Inspiring
visions of leadership

"Tomorrow’s
effective leaders will create and communicate a rational and appealing vision
of the possible future of the group of people, organisation or nation they
lead. They will be visionary entrepreneurs. They will formulate and communicate
strategies that are perceived by followers to be rational, they will be moral
exemplars. They will empower people to be able to develop, fulfil and use their
potential at work, they will be coaches and mentors. They will motivate and
inspire people through their dedication, trustworthiness, trust in others,
example, expertise, use of appealing language, and their ability to create a
world of work in which people can fulfil their aspirations and hopes. They will
be charismatic leaders."

Roger
Gill PhD, The Leadership Trust – The Past 25 Years and the Next

"The
rate of change today is so fast, that the ability to run a business in a
competitive way is paramount. Young leaders who took part in our research
highlighted the need to be fast, quick thinking, and not afraid of difficult
decisions. Older leaders, who have seen business change, no longer manage in a
command and control way. They have learned to be empathetic, to listen."

Terry
Bates, senior consultant, Penna Executive Coaching, commenting on research
undertaken into today’s leadership qualities.

Comments are closed.