by Paul Taffinder
What is the point of leadership? Why is it so important to people? Why do organizations value it so much? These are questions that most people, if they have any ambition to be a leader, will ask at some point in their career. The value of leadership can be measured in how individuals can make a difference by:
- providing a sense of achievement and motivation to succeed that structure and organization on their own cannot
- calling on commitment to action or even sacrifice by individuals to benefit the team or enterprise
- inspiring people to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles
- persuading disparate factions to pursue common cause
- creating excitement and ambition to perform at the highest level
- engendering hope among people who are despairing
What you will notice about this list is that the value leadership creates is both subjective and practical. Indeed, for almost everyone, it is subjective experiences that are the most important for them: the feeling of confidence that comes from having overcome impossible odds, the dignity of contributing to a meaningful or important enterprise, the sense of achievement in success or learning something new, the satisfaction of having done the best for one’s family, team or business or having gained the esteem of colleagues. At the same time, leadership value is intensely practical – because it moves things forward, it creates action, it changes the world, it increases the likelihood of growth, attainment and success.
How do I become a leader? How do I develop as a better leader? Throughout my own career, both as an executive in the corporate world and as a consultant and strategic advisor to businesses, it has struck me how universal is the interest in these two questions. Young men and women, starting to make their way in the world want answers to these questions, but are often surprised to learn that so too do CEOs and executive committee members and every other senior manager.
Leadership is hard. It is a more complex, more lonely and more exposed way of behaving. By contrast, management is easier (and just as important, as later chapters show). The skills of management can be built brick by brick, as it were: delegation, reviewing performance, communication, team-building, budgeting, conflict management, interviewing, developing people, planning, running meetings and so on. Learning to lead is not about developing new skills, so much as it is about confronting yourself with how your emotions, thinking and behavior have impact on other people and therefore how you create leadership value.
The intention behind the book is to encourage people to fix in their minds a simple, challenging leadership model and then take the personal risk of applying each of the five elements of leadership behavior in their everyday work. It is not a book aimed only at senior executives running large businesses; rather, The Crash Course is a series of modules that individuals at many levels can study, deploy in their departments or businesses, or simply use as a reminder from time to time of what leadership is really about. In addition, the layout of the book is geared towards behavioral action: reading, assessing your own behavior and then trying things. It is also a book that requires you to be honest with yourself: if you refuse to see and measure your true strengths and weaknesses as a leader, you will have wasted your time reading it.
The Crash Course is also a book that acknowledges the global, interconnected world in which leaders now operate. Smartphones connect you to vast stores of instant data, information and opinions. Apps make your life easier but probably more distracted! New technology can make leadership both demanding and complex. Blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotic process automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Analytics are technologies that leaders of businesses and government institutions must not only understand but leverage for commercial advantage or the good of society. If it is the role of managers to make new technology work effectively, it is the role of leaders to judge where and when to deploy it and what it will mean for employees, citizens, school-children, the police, teachers and everyone else who looks to leaders to provide meaning and direction in a confusing and very fast-moving world.
That said, it is also the case that leadership is a very profound human concept. It has impact on both thinking and emotion but its draw, when you see good leadership in action, is immensely powerful in inspiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things – not always for the good of society, as the many wars started by leaders have shown. None the less, leadership appeals at a deeply psychological level. It has been a central part of all societies from the earliest times. It has been written about constantly for all of recorded history. Indeed, most history is liberally punctuated by the stories, triumphs, achievements and, yes, failures and disasters wrought by great leaders.
Why? Leadership offers the comfort of direction, or hope, or promised success. This is because leadership in action is almost always about dilemmas, difficult choices and asking risky questions – and most people would rather someone other than themselves, a leader they respect, faced these difficulties and offered the answers and made the decisions. It is why leaders are ceded authority and status. But beware! With authority and status come loneliness and personal accountability.
One might think that in our modern era the need for leadership is less relevant. Might not education, the power of technology and the incredible freedoms most of us take for granted make leadership redundant? Incontrovertibly no. I find that the need for leadership is more urgent, more important. This need is self-evident. In the political sphere it is signified in the great events that have shaped the early decades of the 21st century: the climate change movement, 9/11, the Palestinian Intifada, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror and the war on poverty, mass migration and insurgent political leaders. In economics it is the 2008 financial crash, the rise of India and China as commercial powerhouses and the impact of technology and vast capital movements in driving globalization and lowering barriers to entry. And in the organizational world it is the intensity of competitive pressure, the rise of giant global businesses and nimble start-ups, ongoing mergers and acquisitions, the collapse and integration of once separate industries and businesses into new multilayered ecosystems, the accelerating, almost exponential, surge of technological innovation and the blurring of the lines between government and private sector. In all of these events and processes, leadership is intimately and decisively the difference between excellence and mediocrity, success and failure.
by Paul Taffinder
Every year corporations spend billions in pursuit of change. Some are successful. Many are not. In this winner of the prestigious 1999 Management Consultancy Association Prize, Paul Taffinder casts a critical eye over the big change efforts of more than 30 organizations worldwide, and offers conclusions as unsettling as they are insightful and firmly supported by real-world business sense.
"Paul Taffinder achieves what in many other books remains an empty promise. Brilliant insight...inspiring...A real eye-opener."
Dr. Siegfried Hoenle, Director, Warburg Dillon Read.
by Paul Taffinder
Through a series of interviews with some of the world's top business leaders, The New Leaders sets out to identify what qualities set them apart, challenging popular assumptions and getting below the surface of what leadership really is.