HUMILITY IS THE HALLMARK OF GREAT LEADERSHIP

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Irish writer C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

It is very rare for a great leader to be arrogant. This is usually the style of the weak and insecure rather than those who have a real understanding of who they are and what they want to achieve and how they plan on doing so.

I met a very interesting “old world” style gentleman recently at a dinner party in the house of mutual friends in Bordeaux. He and his wife were visiting the Bordeaux region for 2 weeks of their summer vacation, and seating arrangements at the table (we had a few more men than women that evening) meant that he and I were placed beside each other. We chatted through the evening about Scottish independence, the Pistorius trial, the perilous state of the euro, the Islamic State and a myriad of other topics.

Author: Erik van Leeuwen (bron: Wikipedia); GNU FDL; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Erik van Leeuwen (bron: Wikipedia); GNU FDL; via Wikimedia Commons


They were staying with other mutual friends of ours and we saw them a few more times while they were here. Each time I met him I found out just a little more about the man … he was always interesting to talk to, always well dressed, well spoken, knowledgeable about many topics, political, cultural, current affairs and business. Getting to know him was like peeling away the layers of an onion, my finding out more personal and intimate elements of him, his beliefs, his character, his background and personality, just one layer at a time as we got to know each other.

When I had asked him what field he was in, he had just said that he had an engineering background, but that he had moved into management early in his career. It was only after he had left France to return home that his Bordeaux hosts told me that he was the CEO of one of the UK’s largest companies, that he sat on a number of hi-powered boards and that he was an advisor to the UK government on business and international issues.

His humility bore the hallmark of a great leader. He obviously had a strong understanding of who he was and where he wanted to go and how he was going to get there, and he therefore did not have the need of projecting an image of self-importance. He was a great listener, didn’t pontificate, despite having strong beliefs and values, and spent time telling me stories and interesting anecdotes about some of the wonderful people he had had the privilege to work with during his career.

By Phillip Medhurst  (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Phillip Medhurst (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Contrast this with a colleague of mine who after attending a senior executive development programme a few years ago now prefaces every second sentence with “When I was at INSEAD …”. He also, within the first five minutes of meeting someone new, will start listing his achievements, including but not limited to the size and splendour of his multiple homes, his collection of luxury cars, the exalted leadership position he now holds, and how the economic survival of Europe rests totally on his shoulders, like Atlas supporting the entire world. There is no subject in the world on which this man does not believe that he is a foremost expert, and he will always have a better understanding of any issue than any other person on this planet. I believe that this attitude of his own self-importance diminishes his position as a leader, and I know that his people also find it hard to cope with his arrogance.

When a person in a leadership position focusses mostly on himself, he has very little left in which he is able to focus on his people. A true leader when discussing successes will spend most of the time telling you about what has been achieved by his people, both individually and collectively, rather than about what he personally has achieved.

I have had several conversations with this person about his personal style, and it seems impossible for me to disabuse him of his belief that he is just exuding confidence (not arrogance), and that this is important to, in his own words, “inspire people to greatness by showing them what he has achieved, and therefore what they can also achieve”. Sadly I believe that this is a situation where one has to seriously ask the question of “Would anyone want to follow him if he didn’t have the title?”

Humility is the sign of great strength rather than of weakness, and is inherently attractive, and all true leaders understand that to be a successful leader they need to be able to attract really great followers.

Great leaders understand that success is driven by passionate people who come together to share a common dream and to achieve common goals and objectives, and will therefore ensure that people are made to feel important, and empowered, and therefore have ownership of what needs to be done. This means letting your people own the successes and outcomes, as well as the responsibilities, for achieving these. The less importance you place on yourself, the more importance you can place on your people.

Author: R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: R. D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons


There is no question in my mind that leaders need to exude an air of confidence and need to be able to inspire people about their vision for their team, but confidence has nothing to do with arrogance and self-importance.

True leadership involves convincing people that they have it in themselves to achieve greatness because of who they are and what they can do personally and as a team, and is never about how great is the leader and what s/he can achieve. If you are truly a great leader people will recognise that in you by themselves, by your actions, and when they do so, they will willingly follow you.

The 33rd President of the USA, Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) wisely said “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Uploaded by Scewing; via Wikimedia Commons

Uploaded by Scewing; via Wikimedia Commons


WHAT CAN ONE SAY TO A NEW MANAGER IN JUST ONE HOUR

I was recently asked by an exciting and highly successful young salesman, who had just been promoted to his first management role, to give him some “fatherly” advice on what I felt he should focus on to get started with his team. I would have preferred to have at least a year to prepare him for the management role, but we had only one hour together to chat about this vast topic, so it made me not only need to think about being concise, but also made me think about needing to drill down to the key elements of management that would really matter to a “newbie” and that, in his first 100 days as a manager, would define him to his people as their leader rather than as a peer.

Author: Tomwsulcer; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tomwsulcer; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Here were the 10 key points that I discussed with him… 4 for him to pass on directly to his sales and support team, and 6 priority areas for him to focus on from the first day.

The 4 messages to his team were:

– Tell them who you are and in what you believe … That honesty (no lying, cheating or thieving) and integrity (what you believe is what you say is what you do) is at the heart of who you are and that this is what you expect from all of them. That nothing happens in the world until someone sells something, that this makes Sales the noblest profession in the world and that you will always be proud to be a salesman. That your role as their manager is to help all of them to be successful, and that you are available to them in whatever way that they need.

– Give them a dream … Set them a challenge to be the best (most successful, most professional, highest customer satisfaction) sales team in the company. That you expect the team to be a breeding ground for future leaders in the company and that you will work with all of them on their development for an opportunity to qualify. That you expect them to be the best that they can be at whatever they do. That you want other teams in the company to look at them as the standard to reach.

Source: Familiengrab_des_Otto_Schurig_-_Mutter_Erde_fec.jpg; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Familiengrab_des_Otto_Schurig_-_Mutter_Erde_fec.jpg; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Tell them what you expect from them … That you are proud and excited to be given the opportunity to lead this team. That you intend to challenge them to “do more, jump higher, run faster” and to be more successful than any of the other sales teams in the company. That you expect them to always learn and grow so that things become easier as they become more skilled and capable. That you also expect to have a lot of fun along the way.

Author: Jimmy Harris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Jimmy Harris; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Tell them that a team that works together is always more successful … That while we live in a highly competitive environment, the more that we can all work together and support each other the more we will all achieve. That great teamwork will always deliver more than the sum of its parts. That in the best sales teams, every member of the team succeeds not just a few. That you expect them to support each other so that every team member has a chance for success.

The 6 key areas on which I felt he should focus were:

– Ensure they all understand and accept their goals … It is important that people have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and where/how they fit in to the dream that has been painted by their leader, over and above their financial goals. Most sales managers focus all of the goal-setting on the numbers to achieve, and the monetary rewards that come with achieving them, but this is not enough to build a high performing and professional sales organisation. It is also important to be able to answer the “Why are we here and why it’s important”, as well as the “Here’s what we need you to do”.

– Set the standards and know you will be watched … Many new managers believe that “if they say it so shall it be”, but the reality is more like “if they do it so shall it be”. No matter what a manager says, his people will watch his behaviour and will emulate this rather than follow the spoken words. I once had a manager who talked about working hard all the time, but regularly took long lunches and weekly golf breaks, both activities soon becoming a standard in the team.

– Remove the barriers … Find out what is getting in the way of your people being able to do the job well and make it your responsibility to remove the barriers to their success. Protect them from all sides from things that are time-stealers but that deliver little benefit to the company. This can be particularly true in matrix organisations where some people will “make work” to justify their existence.

Author: Kenneth Allen; Source: geograph.org.uk; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Kenneth Allen; Source: geograph.org.uk; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


– Build the team … Build pride in the team and the privilege of being a member, overcoming the Groucho Marx comment of “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Set high standards of membership and ensure that people are held responsible and accountable for their actions. The team will either ascend or descend to whatever level of standards you tolerate as being acceptable.

Author: U.S. Federal government; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: U.S. Federal government; via Wikimedia Commons


– Recognise and re-enforce excellence … Recognise and celebrate success and high performance often. It only takes a bit of imagination, rather than huge expense, to be able to recognise individual and team “highs”. I know of one large team that has a wide mix of nationalities working out of the one London office, and every time a team member achieves something worthwhile, the whole team stands and tries to sing their specific national anthem … maybe a bit corny to some, but it shows respect, is a lot of fun and it fits well into the diversity of the team culture.

– Don’t over-manage … Give people the freedom to make mistakes, and give the team the right to self-manage as much as possible. People who are scared to make mistakes are too scared to step out of traditional boundaries, and as such will do what has been done before, rather than what needs to be done today in an ever changing world. New managers tend to focus too much on control, rather than to focus on re-enforcing the needed behaviours.

It is also important to remember the words of American Industrialist John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) who said “Good management consists in showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”

THE LEADERSHIP GAP

“It is the men behind who make the man ahead.”
American editor and author, Merle Crowell (1906-1959)

I have recently been invited to give the opening keynote at the 2014 HRM Expo in Cologne, Germany this coming October, my given topic being “Are we ready for workplace democracy ?” The fact that I wrote a blog piece on this topic last March (see “Are we ready for workplace democracy ?” posted March 17, 2014) may actually be the main reason that I received this invitation.

By Fallschirmjäger; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Cologne at dusk; by Fallschirmjäger; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


In this post, I reasoned that notwithstanding the changing face of management towards greater freedoms in the workplace, people still needed some direction and structure in their work lives, whilst accepting that this is significantly less than what was needed in my, and previous, generations. I also cited my reasons for rejecting the idea that business leaders should be democratically elected by their staff, as I had seen in one case, as being a leap too far. I felt that I would still rather have them appointed by the board and senior management.

I still believe this, but I do have some serious concerns about the way we generally seem to select, develop and promote our business leaders, as despite the changes we are seeing in our new mobile, connected world, these practices seem to have changed little over the last 50 years, including some Business Schools where the business case studies used can be significantly older than the students (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011). I have also been critical of the fact that senior management in larger companies tends to be suspicious and wary of promoting creative, imaginative people who are prepared to take some calculated risks and drive needed changes in an ever-changing world, in favour of promotion of those who are more inclined to protect the status quo. Senior executives do love to promote in their own image.

Author: Tatu Monk; CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tatu Monk; CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0; via Wikimedia Commons


One of the other problems that I see is that there appears to be a growing belief amongst many that leadership and management can be easily taught, and taught quickly, and to foster this belief we have seen a growing availability of short, sharp, quick-hit training courses that seem to cater to the same clientele who see books like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese” as being great tomes on business life. This “leadership development” industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar business, in the main turning out managers who believe they know all that they need to know to successfully lead a team. I have, for example, interviewed many young MBA graduates who believe that they are ready for a management role immediately upon graduation, whereas I have always seen an MBA as being equivalent to buying a fishing license, which gives you the right to sit at the river, but which still means that you have to learn how to actually catch fish.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


I have no doubt that some elements of management and leadership can be taught, but the reality is that becoming a capable leader and manager is a journey of discovery and experimentation over one’s lifetime, rather than being a destination that one reaches after reading a few “pamphlets” and some attendance on a few “quickie-how-to” courses. I recently had a newly appointed manager ask me whether I could give him an hour of my time to tell him about the key elements of management so that he could become effective quickly. Up until his sudden appointment into a management role, no-one had thought about how to prepare him properly for the move from an individual contributor to having responsibility for a team of people. I was delighted that he was keen to understand the role of a manager, but somewhat dismayed that he felt that “an hour of my time” was enough to get him started.

Another problem that we face today is that, lacking other empirical measures of management excellence, the main way that we tend to identify and recognise outstanding leadership in the business world is based almost entirely on the financial results, which often disregards at what expense these are achieved. A good example of this tendency, were the accolades heaped on the management of Enron right up until the final moments of its sudden and spectacular death. As a result of this focus on “show me the money”, the biggest fee earners and highest revenue generating sales people are the ones who most commonly get promoted, in the belief that they will somehow automatically understand how to pass these skills on to others, and the fact that they could sell product and services was an indicator of leadership qualities.

The issue is that when it comes to selecting future leaders, just looking at their potential leadership skills, based on past performance, is not enough, as it is critical that one also evaluates their “followership” skills.

The critical question is “Would anyone follow them if they didn’t have the title ?”

This situation was well brought home to me during my own career when a colleague of mine, who had been a successful regional President, was appointed to the role of Global CEO. Despite his previous successes, and despite having been able to build a small band of devoted acolytes, he was not able to build broad “followership” in the company. After only about a year in the role, there was a general uprising amongst staff that forced the board to rethink his appointment and resulted in his subsequent removal.

To me, this was at least a real example of workplace democracy at work.

By SchuminWeb; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By SchuminWeb; CC BY-SA 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


This taught me not only the power of mob rule, but also the fact that a true leader cannot be defined by his own leadership persona, but is more defined by the number of, and the passion and commitment from, his followers.

As said by Harvard University Professor Barbara Kellerman “Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.”

WHEN DID EVERYONE BECOME A LEADER ?

“Life isn’t easy, and leadership is harder still.”
Bard College Professor Walter Russell Mead

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I can remember a time when the term “leader” was used to describe the most senior person in any human run entity, such as the CEO of a large company, a President or Prime Minister of a country that actually had a seat at the United Nations, or even the head of any religious organisation that needed more than one minibus to take all its adherents to the annual sausage sizzle. (See “Management or Leadership” posted March 7, 2011).

This does not seem to be the case today, when we appear willing to accord a leadership title to all.

It is as though words like “specialist”, supervisor” and even “manager” have all been discarded from our business lexicon.

Project Managers have been replaced by Project Leads and Team Leaders, even if the entire team consists of 2-3 people, Senior Maths Teachers in schools are now The Maths Leader, and Shift Leader has replaced Shift Supervisor even in small factories.

My first promotion in 1968 was from the position of Computer Programmer to the role of being in charge of a 6-man programming team, which carried the exalted title of Senior Programmer. Today that title is more likely to be Leader Software Development, just as the person who is responsible for looking after the elevator staff at Harrods Department Store in London will no doubt be carrying the title of Leader Vertical Displacement Services.

Even my next promotion carried the title of Supervisor, and it took me another two years to actually get to a position that carried the word “Manager” in the title. We had a leader … he was the CEO.

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}


I find that it is very rare these days that anyone even talks about management training, as people who are seen as being of management potential are now sent on Leadership Development Programmes rather than management training, despite the fact that statistics tell us that most will never get beyond a first level management position. Even Primary school teachers today go on leadership development courses even if most don’t/won’t/can’t become a school principal, and just want to be able to teach young children, and to do it well.

Is it just a question of time before we replace the increasingly more humbly titled MBA with the more importantly sounding MLA (Mater of Leadership Attainment), as business schools finally come to the realisation that this is a whole new gravy train?

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license


I was recently asked to come and talk about leadership at an annual company event that brings together all staff that are in any “people responsible” roles (to be somewhat cautious in my use of language) for a 2-day talk fest to kick off the new business year. In discussing the remit with my host, I innocently asked whether, as my session would be on the topic of Leadership, I could assume that I would be addressing the senior executive team. It turned out that I would actually be presenting to everyone except their “Top-100” senior managers, being the 1000 or so first and middle level management.

When I asked whether, based on the audience, discussing “management rather than leadership” would not be more appropriate, I was told that the company had decided to run a programme that was planned to make everyone “a leader in their role”, and that this was all part of the key messaging of this year’s kick-off meeting. My suggestion that what he was describing was surely more about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” rather than being about “leadership” almost lost me the assignment.

However, as it was an existing client, and it was a good fee, I titled my session, as they had suggested, “We are all leaders” and spoke about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way”.

I do wonder however, whether we have come to a point where the word “leadership” has become so overused that it is losing its true meaning, just like the word “cloud” is today in the tech industry where everything is now labelled as being cloud, when much of it is really just smoke.

Are we trying to give everyone the title of leader as this then removes the need for senior management to actually do something about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” ? By making everyone a leader does that just conveniently shift this responsibility from the top of the pyramid down to the individual ? Despite the changes in titles I have not seen the commensurate increases in authority and levels of freedom that one would normally associate with someone in a leadership role.

I salute the whole idea of giving people more freedom, fewer barriers, more responsibility, the right to manage themselves and how they do their job, as I have long believed that when we remove the shackles from people, many will take the opportunity to soar rather than just make do.

I am also not questioning that people can take up a temporary leadership role dependant on the situation being faced at the time, like one team member being quiet during a team discussion on technology, but leading the discussion when the topic switches to sales and marketing.

But I don’t think that this makes them a leader. It can, however, make them a liberated employee who is committed to making a serious contribution to the company in areas where they have subject matter expertise, and as such we should treat them with respect, hear what they have to say, and make sure that we nurture them as one day, in the right environment, they may actually become a true leader.

If we really want to build leaders, we need to give people the culture and the freedom to act, to learn and to grow, rather than to just give them a title with the word “leader” embedded in it.

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons


“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work and time. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal.” American Football Coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970).

POLITICIANS ARE THE LAST PEOPLE WE SHOULD ALLOW TO RUN A COUNTRY

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character then give him power”.
The 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long bemoaned the low quality of leadership that we have to tolerate with our politicians (see “We get the leaders we deserve” posted February 2, 2011), and in the 2 years since I wrote this piece, it has hardly improved.

In France, Francois Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as President of the Republic in May 2012, becoming only the second ever Socialist President. As the first one was Francois Mitterand who served 1981-1995, it begs the question as to whether the selection process used for leadership of the French Socialist Party is as much based on the “prenom” as it is on actual leadership capabilities. This is somewhat supported by the fact that President Hollande has managed to barely stumble along in his term thus far, attracting the worst approval ratings of any French President in recorded history. This currently stands at 22%, but it is interesting to note that it hovered around 20% for a long time, rising 2% when the French Press recently announced that he may have actually been having an affair with an attractive French actress. For someone with the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” (Mister Pudding), he does definitely manage to involve himself with attractive women in affairs of state.

As I have only ever considered Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore (and Nelson Mandela of South Africa) as having exhibited true leadership qualities (rather than just political power), I have spent some time thinking about why these are so rare in our politicians.

Source: P051912PS-1096, the White House; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: P051912PS-1096, the White House; via Wikimedia Commons


In doing so, I have now come to the conclusion that “leadership”, as we think of it say in a business or military context, is actually beyond the reach of politicians, and that I have probably been wrong in believing that we can expect true leadership from any of them.

Even the generally accepted definitions are different.

Leadership is defined as “… a process of influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task …”.

Political Leadership is defined as “… responsibility for the public administration, civil aspects and policy making for a body politic (country, state, local body), as distinguished from the law or the military.

I believe that the biggest difference that exists is the ability to define and control the environment that they have to work within.

A leader has a vision of what can be achieved and then creates the environment needed to do so. This can be as mighty as wanting to conquer the known world as evinced by Alexander the Great, who by the age of 30 had created one of the greatest empires of the ancient world stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. No-one of his ilk followed in his footsteps, as after his death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart. The true leader has the ability and charisma to inspire others that are needed for success to buy-in to the vision, and to be part of its execution. There is no question that a leader has to also work with the stakeholders that can affect his ability to lead. A CEO needs to convince his board, his shareholders and his ecosystem of his vision for the future and the benefits that will accrue to all involved, but once s/he has garnered their support has the ability to forge ahead, with review but little interruption. However, a leader can also exist at a much more micro level such as someone stepping in to solve a problem in a business process, or a senior teacher taking upon themselves the driving of new curricula. However, even this level of leadership still needs to exhibit the same leadership characteristics that are needed in the larger leadership roles.

Source: http://galleryhistoricalfigures.com/; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://galleryhistoricalfigures.com/; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


On the other hand, political leaders are basically legislators and policy makers who have to work within established areas, and whose main objectives are around their ability to make small tweaks to the status quo that are acceptable to their supporters, and that are not too antagonistic to their opponents, thereby hoping that they can stay in their position of elected power. They may have a vision for the future, being whatever ideology or –ism that they subscribe to, but have little ability to achieve it fully under modern political environments. Mohamed Morsi, the fifth President of Egypt, found this out recently when he tried to drive Egypt towards the doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was subsequently removed by the military after mass protests.

I have realised that it is possible for a leader to be a politician and conversely a politician can also be a leader, but that this combination of both done well in the same person is very rare, as their basic mind-sets, driving forces and core characteristics are totally different.

I have therefore decided to stop looking for leadership from our politicians. I have accepted that politicians can make adjustments to the conditions that exist, and that in doing so they can deeply impact where I choose to live and how I am able to live there, but that I will be unlikely to have the privilege of living under a political regime that will inspire me to want to follow them.

As said by French General and President General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians”.

General Charles De Gaulle; via Wikimedia Commons

General Charles De Gaulle; via Wikimedia Commons


IS SOCIAL MEDIA ROBBING THE WORLD OF GREAT LEADERSHIP ?

I have become increasingly more of the opinion that social media, aided with a less forgiving press, is robbing us of better political leadership.

Up until the 1960s, the western press tended to believe that the private lives of public figures were off limits for them to report on, and hence many of the leaders at the time did not have their peculiarities and peccadilloes exposed to public scrutiny until after their deaths.

The most famous example is of course American President John F. Kennedy whose life, 50 years later, is still described by many in Camelot mythology terms. The reality now coming to light is of a man whose sexual appetites knew no boundaries, and who disregarded any and all restrictions of security or proprietary in satisfying them, having had relationships with Danish journalist Inge Arvad (suspected of Nazi connections), Judith Exner Campbell (an intimate of Mafia bosses) and Mariella Novotny (who was involved in the Profumo affair in Britain and was also intimate with the Soviet Naval attaché at the time). Despite repeated warnings from the FBI and the American security services, JFK persisted and continued to be reckless in his personal life. He was well protected, as when the press threatened to publish his links to the Profumo affair, suggesting that he too was involved in the vice scandal, his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, intervened to stop the newspapers from publishing any details.

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; via Wikimedia Commons


Compare this situation with the rather childish, though weird and immature, transgression of Anthony Weiner, the former member of the United States House of Representatives from New York City, whose hobby appears to be the sending of photos of himself in a state of arousal to young women. In 2011, he was caught out sending a link of a sexually explicit photo of himself, over Twitter, to a young woman in Seattle, ultimately resulting in his resignation. He tried to resurrect his political career in 2013, running for Mayor of New York, when more pictures and “sexting” came to light released by the website “The Dirty”. He refused to retire from the race, but gained less than 5% of the vote, despite his photographic skills.

Author: Thomas Good / NLN; GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Thomas Good / NLN; GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons


The point is that it took only a few weeks from the announcement of his intention to run in the New York Mayoral race to this latest set of “selfies” going viral across the internet via twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere.

Today, our lives, private and public are so open to scrutiny that I wonder why anyone in their right mind would consider running for public office, with the understanding that not only will all their skeletons come out of the closet into bright sunshine, but that social media today has the ability to ensure that these skeletons can get widespread global airing in times measured in milliseconds.

Author: ZyMOS-Bot; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: ZyMOS-Bot; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I believe that there are probably some potentially great people out there who could make a significant contribution to the betterment of their city, their country, the world and mankind, who are just not prepared to step into an arena of public scrutiny that will ensure that they are stripped bare of all cover. I don’t blame them as I am sure that very few of us have nothing, or even very little, to hide ?

This may help to explain why we seem to have such a lame and lacklustre bunch of politicians running the place today.

Francois Hollande, current President of France is a really good example of this current state. He has long had the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” after a pudding in France which is soft both on the inside and outside, and in his first year of office has shown that he can live up to his nickname by flip-flopping on many issues from immigration to taxes.

Author: Garitan; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Garitan; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Sadly it is not much different in the UK and Germany being the other major European powers. No one could accuse David Cameron or Angela Merkel of being exciting or of being game changers. The nicest thing we can say about them is that they have never done anything significantly wrong, and that sadly they also haven’t done anything very right, very different or very exciting.

What these three current country leader examples have in common is that they are bland, and have very little in their pasts that would make interesting reading in any form of media, the most exciting viral post about Angela Merkel having been a series of photographs showing her wearing exactly the same business-style suit in about 40 slightly differing colours. Be still my heart !

Just when we need some serious leadership, we seem to be getting the “white bread choices” because the “onion and cheese poppy seed roll” politicians that are needed are keeping away from the social spotlights that can bring out all imperfections in their glow. We are therefore being presented with second and third rate candidates to choose from, and are thus just ending up with national leaders that are merely the best of what is on offer … or so we hope. (see “We get the Leaders we deserve” posted February 2nd, 2011).

Or the world gets the fools like Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who has recently admitted to smoking crack cocaine, but excused his drug taking as he was always in a drunken stupor whenever he did, so he cannot be held accountable for his actions.

With the death of Nelson Mandela this last week we may have seen the last of the great leaders who went ahead and did what was needed to fight for his beliefs, without fear or hesitation of the polls or of how the media might interpret his actions either public or private. He was no saint, but he dramatically changed the part of the world he lived in, and in doing so changed all of us in different ways.

In Mandela’s own words “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

Author: South Africa The Good News/www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license

Author: South Africa The Good News/www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license


I would rather have some passionate world leaders with imperfections, than have a world run by the bland “flanbys” with none.

LEADERS BUILD LEADERS

I have long believed that one of the key measures for any senior manager should be whether s/he is a net creator of talent for their organisation. It is also critical that this focus is not only to build the skills of people in their own area of responsibility, but to also help to build leadership talent that can be deployed across the divisional boundaries.

I believe that it is not enough for companies to just have a formalised succession planning process, as there also needs to be a culture in the company of building leaders, as I believe that great leaders will understand and have a focus on ensuring that “leadership” is more than just a topic for an intellectual discussion, and will make it a priority to build leadership at all levels.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


While I do believe in formalised succession planning in all companies and at all levels, unfortunately I have most often found that these tend to be a “tick in the box” exercise rather than a serious attempt to recognise and develop real talent. In my own experience I have found that the majority of promotions tend to have little to do with what has been documented, reviewed and accepted as being the planned succession strategies. For example, one company where I worked, despite having a widely implemented and much trumpeted succession planning process which went all the way to the executive board, would still fill almost 70% of vacant management roles from external candidates. Not only does this disillusion and disengage existing staff about the possibilities for their own promotion opportunities, it also disrupts any real attempts to build long term, sustainable leadership capabilities.

The Hays Group’s 8th “Best Companies for Leadership” (BCL) survey of 18,000 individuals from 2200 companies world-wide found that “… we have learned from studying the BCL over the past eight years that success is a long-term game based on three core leadership habits: investing in identifying and growing leaders at all levels, focusing and rewarding organisational efficiency and, at the same time, building business agility to respond to new markets and environments” and “The world’s best companies for leadership (BCL) are purposeful and strategic in developing, enabling and motivating leaders throughout the organisation.”

I feel that the critical element needed is that building leaders needs to be company-wide, as Leadership is not reserved just for senior executives, but needs to be cultivated in all areas of the organisation and at all levels. It is important for long-term sustainable success that companies are able to define the roles that are critical to their future, and then systematically identify the individuals that can develop the required leadership skills to fill them. Most companies talk about this, but I have seen few that really make it part of their core priorities. Companies that do understand this work hard to empower their employees to take leadership roles in every area of the business, and particularly in regards to innovation and customer relationships, whether they are in management roles or not.

Author: Wolfgang Hägele; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Wolfgang Hägele; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It means that there has to be serious investment of time, energy and continuous focus placed on developing current and future leaders in the business, and that this has to be driven from the top down through the entire organisation, and not just relegated to being an HR initiative, as it appears to be implemented in most companies. It also means that succession planning needs to be real rather than just a “put the names in the boxes” exercise. This will not only enable the recognition of those with potential and those for development, but will also point out the gaps that exist in the people, and the missing skills that need to be developed because they are needed to build sustainable business success.

The issue is that building a leadership culture needs more than the traditional management training, assignments and mentoring, that one would normally associate with executive development. It needs the creation of a “leadership mindset” that allows people the freedom and support to work without fear of failure, and the ability for people to take leadership roles as subject-matter experts rather than just staying within structured organisational management reporting lines. It really needs a belief in the fact that if you give people the opportunity to do great things, then they will strive to do great things.

The dictionary defines leadership as “a process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”, which doesn’t limit it to executives, but must by definition also include thought leaders and key individual contributors to whom people look to in the organisation for influence and direction. The skills that were once seen as being required mainly for senior leadership, such as emotional intelligence and finely honed analytical thinking, are now critical at every level and in most roles in an organisation.

As so ably put by American political activist Ralph Nader “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders not more followers”.

Author: Don LaVange (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/); CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Don LaVange (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wickenden/); CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons