Leadership Series – Part 1 Uncomfortable Truths
Do you know what makes a good leader?
OK so that is something of a trick question. Leadership is not a one size fits all concept- we need different leaders for different situations. Churchill, for example, was regarded as an inefficient peacetime prime minister but a great leader for times of war.
Throughout my working life I have encountered, and challenged various leaders and been impressed and dismayed by different leadership styles. The question of what makes a good leader has created a whole industry on leadership teaching and there is plenty of material on the subject. As a public speaker campaigning for rail safety the issue of leadership was at the heart of the failures in rail maintenance and management. There is an old Turkish saying, “The fish rots from the head down” in other words, a company will fail most often due to its leadership. We know the Americanism, “The buck stops here” well it certainly does stop with the leaders at the top of an organization. Bad leaders will do anything to move that buck to someone else.
What makes a good leader changes
As in wartime, circumstances can influence what makes a good leader and what works for a start-up business may not be as effective for an established organization. Currently there is a huge furore in the sports world over Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea FC manager. What a catalogue of leadership disaster his story is. There is absolutely no question that Mourinho has led Chelsea and previous clubs to success; his track record in major championships is extraordinary. It is also clear, however, that his personality is abrasive and he frequently opens his mouth when he should keep quiet. He is currently being sued by the former female Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro after he criticized her treatment of an injured player and she felt she became the subject of constructive dismissal. The FA is angry with Mourinho and have imposed match bans on him for his outspoken comments and criticisms of referees. So, is Jose Mourinho what makes a good leader? Fans would point to his track record, but Chelsea are losing badly at the moment. Critics would argue that his handling of the media and the authorities betrays arrogance and petulance; not good leadership qualities. Jose Mourinho clearly has talent- he now needs to adapt to survive.
The uncomfortable truth that Mourinho and other leaders have to face is that sometimes you are no longer the right leader for your organisation. Business evolves and smart leaders evolve with it. If you are unable to respond to change then your organisation may no longer require your services. No business operates in a vacuum and a good leader will be aware of the context and environment surrounding their business and adapt their leadership style to suit.
Adversity can make a good leader or create a bad one
“Sales of Volkswagen brands including VW, Seat, and Skoda all fell last month in the UK amid the carmaker’s emissions scandal.”
The scandal explained – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34324772
In an attempt to get around the green objective of reducing car emissions – VW rigged the diesel engines in their cars to pass the emissions tests and have been found out. It is now going to cost the company billions of pounds to put this right. Somewhere at the leadership level of Volkswagen, somebody made this decision and the chief executive of the German car giant resigned as a result. The objective of saving the company money and giving a good return to shareholders may have been the original rationale behind this cheating of the system, but long term it has had disastrous results. Low emissions and a green approach to motoring are no longer a “nice idea” they are now law and an integral part of an evolved motor industry. The new chief executive of VW has a challenge on his hands; what will make him a good leader is how he helps VW to recover from this, without further significant loss of revenue.
Adaptability is what makes a good leader
Being able to respond to changes in circumstances is what makes a good leader. It also makes for a good role model for other employees of a company. The, “we’ve always done it this way” mentality is unhelpful in the fast changing 21st century. A good leader leads by example and flexibility, responsiveness, accountability and truthfulness are inspiring qualities of good leadership.