The recent revelations in the Telegraph over the leadership battle for the labour party may make great weekend reading but they also demonstrate a few powerful lessons. Firstly, if any organisation, be it business, political, public or military wishes to achieve a goal it ought to make very sure that all key personnel are in agreement as to what that goal actually is. Without that clarity and common commitment you stand very little chance indeed. Secondly, if that organisation is to make real progress towards the agreed goal they must ensure that they have the right leader. And the third vital component for success is having the correct strategy.
There isn’t one style of leadership, there are many and the success of a particular style inevitably depends upon the stage of evolution of an organisation. Being the hero and making every decision yourself at the start-up and early growth stages may be necessary but later in the business life cycle a more participative, coaching style will start to prepare the team for the time when you aren’t going to be around. Did the Conservative party make the right choice of leader to match the prevailing circumstances with John Major, William Hague or Ian Duncan-Smith? Whatever your politics, there can be little dispute that Margret Thatcher and Tony Blair were fine examples of the old saying ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ (beg pardon, Maggie) . The people (and history) have certainly spoken on Gordon Brown but even the ‘Old Clunking Fist’ did have his moment of leadership over the banking crisis.
I can’t help thinking that political parties (especially those in opposition) place too much importance on choosing the person with the greatest voter or factional appeal and too little on choosing the qualities required lead them to agree and achieve their goals. So, how about Milliband minor – has he got what it takes in terms of personal qualities and the right strategy? Has he got a loyal lieutenant in Ed Balls?
People get hired for their qualifications and experience (with the possible exception of our politicians) but get fired for their performance (or lack of it). It has been found by one of the biggest International psychometric test houses that around 40% of all employees in the UK today do not have the right blend of personal qualities and preferred behavioural style for the job they hold – result? Frustration, misery, depression and, frequently, an appearance at an Employment Tribunal – a massive cost in terms of lost opportunity, money and damage to the organisations’s reputation.
So, the frequently asked question – can you learn to be a leader? Can you improve the skills you have? I’ve worked for few truly outstanding leaders but I have been privileged to work for some wonderful people who knew how to build and use all the talents their team required. Some types of leadership do require certain innate qualities but everyone can (and should) learn how to use their own strengths. Nevertheless, each one of us should be self-aware enough to realise that our particular skill set may not be right for every situation. One often overlooked skill in a leader is that of knowing when to delegate and to whom. However, wherever you fall on the leadership continuum, there are certain things you must engender in your business and never stop leading on – ethics and morality being two of the most important.
Sadly, when we look at our politicians today, it’s the ethics and morality that’s sorely missing in so many of them.