Too Many Managers, Not Enough Leaders
CIO-Connect, September 2003
Britain now produces more than 10,000 MBA graduates every year. And, yet, we have not closed the productivity gap between us and the United States, Germany and France. Perhaps we are producing too many managers and not enough leaders.
More often than not we are promoted because of our specialist expertise and as a reward for past achievements. Less likely are we promoted because of our leadership skills. But what are these? In my experience of working with leaders in all sorts of companies – large, small, manufacturing, retailing, public sector, etc – successful leaders share TEN common characteristics.
- They are charismatic. Outstanding leaders have exceptional qualities, admired by others. Beckham, although quiet and unassuming, inspires the England team by his charisma.
- Leaders are visionaries. They have the ability to construct pictures of the future, of the end game and, through this, to make strategic choices.
- They have the capacity to empathise with their staff. To understand their wishes and expectations and to incorporate these in their strategic decisions.
- In making decisions, they engage their colleagues. They consult and take advice and, through this, the decisions obtain broad support and legitimacy.
- Effective leaders have the capacity to motivate their staff to high performance by giving them the appropriate rewards. They understand each of their colleagues as individuals with specific needs and aspirations.
- High performing leaders delegate to others but never forget they retain the ultimate responsibility. By delegating, they empower and, through this, they clear the decks to concentrate on their own strategic focus. Through this, they also develop their own succession plans – good motivation for others.
- Outstanding leaders are imaginative. They have the ability to think of things in different ways. They can make unusual connections, to unravel opportunities that the rest of us fail to see. This is why leaders are entrepreneurs. They are constantly thinking of new ways of doing things, of inventing new solutions for old problems.
- High performing leadership requires flexibility. Forget the textbooks that offer choices between assertive, consultative and participative leadership. The leader is the person who can flexibly shift seamlessly between leadership styles depending upon the decision, the task at hand and the situation.
- High performing leaders are experimenters. They never forget that leadership requires followership. And this is dependent upon the goodwill and support of their staff. If they lose this support, they lose their legitimacy as leaders. This is why exceptional corporate leaders spend time ‘walking around in their companies’, gaining an understanding of their colleagues’ wishes and aspirations.
- Finally, and most importantly of all (and this is not a definitive list), leadership is based on trust. Unless leaders gain the trust of their colleagues, they obtain in legitimacy and little psychological support. In other words, they are forced to behave as managers rather than as leaders.
Perhaps we, as a nation, are investing too much into developing management skills – expertise to do the job – and not enough in developing the leadership qualities needed to generate high performance. In my view, this is no more evident that in information management. Too often, ‘tekkies’ are promoted into project leadership with little understanding of the vitally ‘soft’skills required to be successful in this position. Too much technical knowledge can be a bad thing!
© Professor Richard Scase