I am a great fan of curation and use Scoop.It on a regular basis to bring together and publish articles and blogs on key areas of interest. One of my curates is called “New Leadership” and a couple of weeks ago one of my Twitter followers asked me what I meant by that. It was a fair question and following the death of Margaret Thatcher, it was one which got me thinking about the way that our concept of leadership has changed over the last couple of decades.
Margaret Thatcher was always held up to be a great leader (at least by her supporters). “Strong” “Fights for what she believes”, “Clear Vision”, “Doesn’t have time for dissenters” were the sorts of phrases which were used to describe her. But leaving aside the politics, I never really bought into that concept of leadership. Even in the 80’s, I sensed that things were changing and that we were looking for very different characteristics in our future leaders.
I think that view has been borne out by events. Nowadays, we want leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence who are collaborative, who engage with and empower their people and who seek consensus rather than conflict. I somehow feel that Mrs Thatcher would have viewed such people as weak and “wet” but if you look at most of the most successful companies on the planet, then that style of leadership has become the norm rather than the exception.
So what has changed over the preceding years? Many things in my view. Firstly, we now operate in a genuine global market place. Our trading and political relationships have changed dramatically and we stand and fall by our ability to collaborate and work in partnership with countries and people whom we might previously thought of as being fortunate to do business with us.
Secondly, as organisations are re-structured to meet the changing needs of that global market, I would argue that there is less call for “leaders” and more need for leadership qualities to be displayed throughout an organisation. Listen to how many times, national team coaches talk about having “leaders throughout the team” to realise how far that concept has been taken. In my last role, I spent 8 years on the Executive Management Team of a global company and I cannot recall a single occasion when the CEO demanded that we follow a certain course of action. Did this mean he was weak? Far from it, he simply realised that he managed a team of highly experienced “leaders” and as such, the decisions we reached were far more effective because they had been reached following a robust and challenging debate. I somehow doubt that was a regular feature of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet meetings.
Finally, I think that people’s expectations have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. The global skills shortage, means that companies can no longer pay lip service to the hackneyed saying “Our people are our most important resource”. Talent retention and development at all levels are now a critical component of any decent strategic plan and this generation of workers will not accept the old, directional styles of leadership. They expect to be consulted and involved in decision-making and empowered to take genuine responsibility – not just simply given a job of work to do. Moreover, if they don’t get what they want, they simply leave. Loyalty is no longer a given.
It will be interesting to see how far these changes in leadership style evolve. I read a blog a couple of weeks ago entitled “Are CEO’s Defunct?” and there are certainly some companies who are experimenting with “leaderless” groups and teams. Indeed, our own business operates as a partnership with each partner “leading” where appropriate.
Whilst I don’t think that CEOs need to be quaking in their shoes yet, we have clearly come a long way in the last 30 years. One of the great quotes from the late Brian Clough was “I am a great believer in group discussions. We talk about it for 20 minutes and we then decide I was right”. Not any more Brian, not any more!
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills