Don Campbell argues that it is high time companies rejected
the idea of leadership being exclusive to the top end of an organisation
There has been talk and editorial on the knotty subject of leadership in
countless journals and boardrooms on both sides of the Atlantic for years. And
yet, the need for more dialogue on the subject never wanes.
With constant changes occurring in the dynamics of the typical workplace,
the playing field never stays level for long. Women assume ever-greater
significance at all levels in the workplace, economies boom and bust,
technologies spawn new industries and skills, mergers and acquisitions prevail
over erstwhile-established teams – the world is ever-changing.
Consequently, the ‘rules’ and best practices of leadership are constantly
falling under the latest business-school and journalistic scrutiny.Much
evidence points to organisations failing to embrace the true concept of
effective leadership – to nurture and harness their talents so that the
collective attributes of a team can be developed to an organisation’s maximum
potential. But what exactly do we mean by leadership?
The most common misconception is that leadership is exclusive to the senior
ranks of an organisation. People at the top often find themselves under fire
for not displaying the types of qualities traditionally associated with
But any ‘failure’ invariably has more to do with excessive reliance on those
at the top, and insufficient mettle and leadership elsewhere in the
organisation – where leadership counts most on a day-to-day basis.
Leadership is as much about personal influence as it is about command and
control, and therefore as much an upwards and sideways process as it is a
downward one. Drive and guidance from the top is essential, but unless this is
reflected throughout an organisation, even the most inspirational top-down
ideas will have little chance of success.
Leadership requires a broader definition than the capacity to persuade
others to follow your command. It is more about the ability to influence, guide
and direct those around us with honesty, integrity, sensitivity and courage –
regardless of business or social setting.
Unless a person knows and takes to heart the real impact of their own innate
behaviour on others – a short fuse for example, or indeed an excessively long
one – the capacity to moderate or adapt behaviour in the interest of effective
influence becomes all the more difficult. Examining the culture of leadership
in more detail, it is necessary to look closely at the three directions of
leadership and the personal qualities each requires.
With downward leadership, the ability to motivate, inspire and focus is
invaluable. The crux of sideways leadership is to be effective, and the ability
to influence peers through credibility and personal power is imperative.
A successful combination of talent, ability and personality is the best way
of achieving sideways influence.
Upwards leadership works when senior managers possess the truth of a
situation, rather than information used to help everybody to feel better or
make life easier for them or employees. This takes courage and sensitivity and
an appreciation of what it is like to be in the other person’s position.
Good upward leadership involves taking the pressure off managers and helping
to make their sometimes-difficult decisions easier. Everyone, regardless of
their level, has the capacity and the responsibility to lead. The key is to
unlock that potential.
This is where effective leadership development courses can make all the
During the course of a few days, preconceptions are challenged, and actions,
behaviour and attitudes questioned. This will provide delegates with a solid
foundation to learn and move forward from as confident, competent leaders.
These are all commonly referred to as ‘soft skills’. During our careers,
truly effective development in these areas is probably the most difficult (and
rewarding) learning curve that we ever embark upon.