Leadership is not what you thought it was - August 2011

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood areas of business today; often resulting in poor leadership & management skills and demotivated & unproductive employees. So we thought it was about time to disspell some of those leadership myths and present you with some more helpful insights into what makes a good leader.

Nature versus nurture

Humans are impacted by both their genes and their environment. However, most nurture impact occurs during an individual’s formative years. By the time a person starts work, their main characteristics are embedded and the impact of workplace ‘nurture’ is relatively marginal.

Emergent leadership

Natural leaders will ‘emerge’ in all human groups who interact together.  BUT these natural leaders are associated with their specific groups: move a strong natural leader from one group to another and the continuation of natural leadership is a lottery.

Less than 20% of managers are strong, effective, change-positive ‘natural leaders’

Although on average about 40% of managers have some natural leadership credentials (in terms of influencing some colleagues and being at least open-minded on change), a more rigorous assessment (strongly influential and change-positive by nature) brings this figure down to less than 20%.

The great leadership training flaw

Transferring the skills and behaviours of successful (normally senior level) leaders to others through ‘leadership’ training has a very mixed track record.  The fundamental flaw is that (mostly) the wrong people are being trained!

The most effective leadership of people occurs where strong ‘natural leaders’ are also in relevant formal leadership. Where this happens, both performance and staff morale almost always rise, even during stressful periods of profound change, including downsizing.

The most consistently effective innovation occurs when individuals with different skills and knowledge work together across organisational boundaries (both internally and externally). Although formal mechanisms can provide a useful focus (such as a new product requirement or a specific problem to be solved), the key ingredient is almost always activating relevant inter-personal (largely informal) networks.

In the real world of work, consistently effective leadership is ‘networked’ with three key elements: innovation,  judgement and implementation. Only one of these three elements – judgement - is dominated by formal managers.  The other two elements are dominated by ‘natural leaders’ and informal networks.