Pick up most business books from the past decade or two and they’re packed with examples of organisations with great visions and heroic leaders for us to consider as role models and exemplars. As fairly recent history has revealed, some of those megastar leaders have turned out to have had feet of clay. Their organisations either no longer exist or have been exposed as espousing noble values to the world whilst privately forsaking them in the pursuit of the bottom line or the lining of their own pockets.
Are you a reluctant leader?
Are we expecting too much of the modern-day leader? Multiple stakeholders, matrix organisation, visionary, strategic, values led, agility, innovative, handling pressure, business changes, tough decisions, impact on people, the need for speed, customers, competitors, products & services, teamwork, the press & media, not to mention diversity, ethics and sustainability?
Frankly, who’d choose to be a leader in this networked, fast-paced, highly transparent, digital age? When there’s not just scepticism, but outright cynicism about leadership in the 21st century? In the face of this cynicism, are you a reluctant leader?
Leadership and employee engagement – the bleak story
According to Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, of America’s roughly 100 million full-time employees, 70 million (70%) are either not engaged at work or are actively disengaged. That number has remained stagnant since Gallup began tracking the U.S. working population’s engagement levels in 2000. The UK has a similar employee engagement deficit; surveys indicate that approx one third of UK workers say that they are engaged. Leadership is a critical factor in creating a culture that focuses on service to customers and service to employees and the knock on effect in engaging both employees and customers. All roads lead to culture and it’s leaders who create the culture.
Who amongst us, if held up to public scrutiny, would pass muster?
Who are the leaders that we can trust? Who can we depend upon to lead our organisations and connect the purpose and meaning of work to everyday activity so that people can become more engaged at an emotional level? What about all the leadership qualities that we aspire to, that we talk about, that we look for in those around us? Ask almost anyone and they’ll say there isn’t one leader who ‘has it all’. Why do we put people on pedestals only to react when we discover they are flawed? Let’s stop looking for the superhero leaders, those mythical people who are perfect in every way. Let’s stay away from the ‘5 tips to be a great leader’ and the leader-lite ‘one size fits all’ leadership approach.
Who can we depend on to lead organisations?
Leaders that we can believe in earn their leadership though life experience, through sticking to their values in tough times and through displaying humility and vulnerability as well as the drive and passion you’d expect to encounter. They build great leadership teams and invest in people’s development because they understand that it is through others that success comes. They are flawed and they recognise their flaws because they’ve looked in the mirror and seen the truth of themselves and want to continue learning and developing. They continue to lead because it’s fulfilling and they create change in the world. I am privileged, through my work, to meet passionate leaders who care about people and create thriving organisations. They are everyday heroes doing extraordinary things on a daily basis
Become a connected leader
Successful leadership relies on connectedness. How to you become and stay connected to your vision and purpose? To your people and clients? To innovation and results? As a leader, you must invest energy and time into all these areas. Each of them is connected to all of the others: they are the parts that form a whole leadership.
Maintaining these connections is challenging. But becoming a Connected Leader means being an authentic and thriving leader. Without connectivity, leadership falters.
Connected leaders challenge themselves as well as others. They have a clear vision that includes and develops those around them. They understand that achieving their leadership goals depends not only on their internal desires, but on their connections with people and ideas.
Let the business books for the 21st century tell of a different kind of leader, so that future readers can be inspired by a more lasting legacy, but more importantly, right now, organisations need those leaders, reluctant or otherwise.