Perhaps the biggest issue for leaders is the paucity of education at this level; education in the sense of teaching and training leaders the art of leadership as such.
There was a report on the failings in a United Kingdom prison recently where the situation had become so bad that the governor was removed the following day. The new incumbent, when interviewed, said gently that there seemed to have been a breakdown in relations between senior management and the staff.
Try searching online for “leadership” and you will be inundated with information, books, presentations and articles, all of which have tried to define the traits which go to make up a successful leader. Relationships are at the heart of it.
It all starts with the perennial question as to whether leaders are born or made, is it a matter of nature or nurture. In all probability it is a mixture of both in some way.
Some years ago I was at a company conference with around 60 of us holed up in a hotel for a long (very long) weekend. We were told that one of the sessions would be on problem solving.
We went into break out groups of about 10 and were given an intractable problem to discuss and solve. Each group was instructed to elect a Chairman and an observer was allocated to each group to report back at the end.
When the observers reported back it transpired that the session was not about problem solving but rather about leadership. In every case – every case please note – the group had elected a Chairman and then proceeded to ignore them as another member of each group took over the role of de facto leader.
We have all been at meetings where someone with a strong personality and probably a loud voice dominated the proceedings and, in some cases, effectively took over the meeting.
In these cases the tendency is for the strong personality to be aggressive and force his/her own opinions on the group rather than the ideal of being assertive. Discussions round the water cooler afterwards are seldom positive.
And where is the training for active or prospective leaders? There is a great deal of management education available at very high levels as well, but it seems to me that there is a shortage of help for people at the top of a business where the demands are totally different from functional management.
So what are those inborn traits which make someone into a leader? Force of personality is certainly one as well as a measure of self-confidence which doesn’t overflow into arrogance. It is that ability to engender trust in followers that also gives them confidence. It is perhaps the ability to engender belief in followers as well. It is the ability to build satisfactory and productive relationships.
All of these attributes are inborn; a consequence of nature and perhaps upbringing in some cases. On the other hand, it is possible to assist leaders to hone their skills through a measure of training and learning, an understanding of which requires humility.
The problem is that as we move upwards through the business there will be fewer and fewer people to tell us that we are doing well and that requires emotional stamina.
We all need praise in some ways and the leader will have to learn to exist on little or no praise, for who is there to praise the leader? Very seldom will it be one of the followers.
A peer group and/or a mentor does help in this respect and many leaders are beginning to realise that the isolation of the position can bring with it stresses that other people in the business don’t experience or even know exist and if they did know of them they would run a mile.
There are some really great books out there to help the leader to develop an ethos which is right for the people and the business.
What is always needed in the leader is a desire to learn, to go on learning and to accept that learning is forever. It really never stops..