Why we need to rethink the notion of leadership

leadership, Intent-Based Leadership

Leadership – it’s become somewhat of a buzzword of late. Spend five minutes in your high street book shop and it won’t be long before you notice the plethora of books begging to offer advice on running a great business, achieving your personal goals and becoming a great leader. 

Alongside them are the “motivational” stories of selfless heroes who have single-handedly changed a business, a city or a team. Hopefully you’ve also now heard snippets of David Marquet’s tale of transforming the USS Santa Fe from one of the worst performing Navy submarines to one of the best – a story which is not only motivational but has fundamental themes which can be applied to any workplace.

With more than 294,000 books about leadership available on Amazon, there is clearly a huge demand for the latest insight.  After all, the quality of leadership has a profound impact on how organisations perform and it affects everyone in a job.   Leadership plays a critical role in our quality of life (something which I touched upon in one of my recent blogs).  We recently heard in the news that four out of five employees regularly feel stressed due to the ‘always on’ working culture. Frazzled employees who feel disconnected from their employer aren’t just bad for the business and customers, it’s bad for the nation’s health.

In our work with a range of organisations, of all types and sizes, throughout the UK, we help employers to look at how they can achieve the best results through their people and the issue that comes up time and again is leadership. So given all the advice and the eye watering $30bn (yes, billion) spend on leadership development, it’s hard to believe that we only produce a relatively small number of really outstanding organisations. Given that when things go badly wrong it usually comes back to a question of leadership, why are we not getting better at it?  

Part of the problem lies in the fact that in the last 20 years we have been told to manage the hell out of organisations, with top down targets here, KPIs there and wherever possible the introduction of processes to replace the reliance on judgement and common sense.  It means that we value doing things right, more than doing the right thing.

The idea that leadership is focused on a small number of talented people directing others is increasingly flawed. It’s a belief that is rooted in the era of mass production when getting people to complete repetitive tasks to a consistent quality was king.  We live in a very different world and you simply can’t order people to be creative or flexible. It’s an era where the customer has to be heard and so do the people in your team who are closest to them.

Its programmes like Intent-Based Leadership (IBL) which will help organisations to develop and move away from the traditional leader follower models which are so outdated, it encourages leaders at every level -  people who are trusted to use their judgement to make the right decisions. People whose opinions and experience are valued. People who have the potential and talent to step forward and lead but who may currently think “what’s the point?” 


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