02nd Sep 2011

New Leadership Needed

As the world economy teeters between double dip recession and recovery, it seems appropriate to reflect on what we need from the new business leaders that need to emerge in our society. 

It is fair to say that leadership has failed us in recent years at a time when the world had its greatest need. Our newly emerging leaders must learn from the past mistakes and create a new brand of leadership to take us well into the 21st century.

The ‘old’ leadership could broadly be characterised as driven by greed (disproportionate bonuses, massive signing on fee’s, stock options etc) and an unhealthy obsession with media profile (driven on by the internet and 24 hour business channels needing sound bites). Our business leaders became personalities and forgot to ‘mind the shop’.

What do we need from our leaders? First100 Ltd works with many large multinationals and at multiple layers in those organisations and one thing is certain – people want to be led.

We need our leaders to have a clear sense of direction – we need them to have the insight needed to bring us out of the current situation. We need them to paint the picture of the future for us and to provide us with a clear plan for how we can all get there. Are key decisions in our biggest companies going to be driven by pleasing the shareholders, the customer, the employees, society at large? We have learned that pleasing only the shareholders and focussing only on stock prices has led to short term thinking that has impacted positively on share price but in the long run proved to be the downfall of many organisations.

We need leaders with an ability to bring people with them on the organisational journey. They should be inspiring, but not necessarily flamboyant and publicity hungry. Understated leaders can inspire if they demonstrate the right values and behaviours and if they are collaborative with employees, suppliers and clients.

Of course we need our leaders to deliver results – that should go without saying. If results are ‘what’ needs to be delivered then the great leaders will need to spend time focusing on ‘how’ to deliver the results.

In figuring out how to lead effectively, it would be wise for our leaders to focus on what they are really good at. Too many leadership development programs are aimed at closing a gap in someone’s capability, which in reality will only get them to a standard level of performance. Great leaders will work with their mentor and coach on identifying what their real strengths are and then on leveraging those strengths to be truly excellent.

Great leaders should trust their instincts and act decisively and with courage. In First100 Ltd, we have worked with many leaders who know they need to make tough personnel decisions, for example, but who prevaricate. Eventually when the decision had to be made (or made for them), they realised they were right instinctively and should have acted earlier. In great leadership it is better to act now and correct later rather than not acting at all.

Now is the time for great leaders to step forth and make their mark. It does not have to be the ‘loudest’ guy in the organisation, it does not have to be the ‘popular’ guy or the ‘media favourite’. The new leaders should be decisive, instinctive, emotionally intelligent. It should be someone with a clear vision, who is confident and is capable of learning from the mistakes of the past.

Out of every crisis we become stronger. We have had a leadership crisis and we will emerge from it much stronger and with a better quality of leadership in society.

Garrett O’ Keeffe

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