What is good Leadership? A response to Henley Business School


I was reading through The Telegraph online when I was struck by the heading, “What Makes a Good Leader?” I read the article (read it here), scribed by Patricia Bossons (Director of the Henley Centre for Coaching and Facilitation) expecting to read yet another stale and predictable article on leadership. But it wasn’t like that at all. Some of it, Dare2Lead actually rather liked!

The first thing the article says is we must alter our concept of what makes good leadership. Absolutely. How we understand and talk about leadership must change, how we academically justify leadership must change, and who can be a leader must change. If we want more open political structures, more sustainable economies, successful businesses and empowered citizens, then we must redefine the paradigms of leadership. For too long we have all (ironically) been passive listeners to ‘leadership experts’ who have fallen out of business schools, academic programmes and textbooks alike – who have ‘told and sold’ us the magic leadership formulas. Such formulas don’t exist. In fact attempting to bottle leadership as a fixed process can be detrimental to all our efforts to improve our leadership capacities. Leadership starts within and is ultimately defined by the aspirations, attitudes and skills of the individual. In fact, as Bossons suggests, you could even argue that the way leaders and managers have been taught to date, and the culture they have moulded to work within, could well have contributed in the broader sense to the recent political and economic crisis’. How can we say we have enjoyed a period of successful leadership when we have faced such a drought of public responsibility, accountability, motivation and passion?

One of the mistakes that ‘leadership experts’ often make is the apparent need to externalise leadership. What this means is too often we treat leadership as an art form or process that is detached from people and can be applied in any situation. Those “leadership experts” should get real!

If leadership is simply conceptualised as an external process, then surely you get a set of norms that are dehumanised, uninspiring, rigid and quickly obsolete? Clunky process management often ignores individual ideas, demotes the value of judgement and is blind to the variables of ambition, character and values.

Leadership is about people. We must understand the core ingredients that make the perfect leadership cocktail. To me its clear – leadership is about self-awareness, social intelligence, confidence, emotional literacy, relationships, motivation and results. Its fundamentally about personal and social capacity. We must recognise the importance of the leader in leadership. Therefore how we lead or manage is unique to every organisation or situation. Whether you call it management, coaching, role model, mentor, boss, whatever, our experience shows you cannot lead another person or group of people, if you don’t dare to lead yourself. And that’s exactly what Dare2Lead programmes and courses do. We take a creative, participatory and experiential approach to learning and development. We don’t do anything ‘to’ you, we do it ‘with’ you. But one thing we are clear about, is for leadership to be sustainable, it must be values-based and start with the individual.

And my final point, no my final plea, is we must now think about sustainable leadership. Leadership that lasts, leadership with a legacy. And there are three ways I think we can do that:

– Leadership starts within, not an academic externalised subject

– Leadership must be based on values

– Leadership must be generationally sustainable through investing in young people to unlock the capacity of a generation

John @JohnLoughton

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