Business leaders must learn from the greatest

In the recent survey conducted among 1,000 business executives by Leaders in London – ahead of its conference this week – it was revealed that their top 10 leaders of all time included the usual suspects: Winston Churchill in pole position, followed by Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Predictably, the only woman who made the top 10 was Margaret Thatcher. Disappointingly, not a single business leader was named, and none of them was a current leader.

But is it perhaps too much to expect our top business leaders to compete with high-profile politicians and religious leaders of days gone by? When people are asked to name their most inspirational leader, why does hardly anyone ever mention their own chief executive?

The Leaders in London nominees seem to have reached iconic status which is beyond the grasp of ordinary mortals. Is it possible, however, to identify from them the sorts of characteristics that will elevate the ‘ordinary’ business leader in the eyes of their followers and warrant them a nomination in future lists?

Surveys show that the key ingredients people like in their leaders are integrity, honesty and humility (usually top of the list), followed by inspirational and motivational skills. The ability to set an appealing vision and strategy and to be able to communicate it effectively, together with a good grounding of knowledge, seem to make up our perfect leader. Do you know anyone who fits this mould? Do even our top 10 leaders possess all of these qualities? Or could it be more that they all achieved something extraordinary: that in the scheme of things, leaders will ultimately be judged by their results?

What can we learn from these lists? Perhaps the best we can hope for is that our leaders must always remember that they have a duty to us to do the best job they possibly can. As followers, we should perhaps remember that our leaders are human too and therefore will not be infallible.

Our responsibility is to provide feedback about their performance – upwards leadership if you like – so that they can serve us effectively.
Who knows; one day we might start nominating our bosses as our most inspirational leader of all time.

Jan Bailey
Marketing manager,
The Leadership Trust

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