Effective Leadership is Difficult

Effective leadership whether in business or politics is an extremely difficult skill. Many of us demand effective leadership from our business and political leaders assuming it is easy. It is not. 

Consider what we expect from our leaders. We expect them to articulate a vision, inspire, empower, motivate us, be competent and above all deliver results. We also expect them to be good communicators and charismatic and be morally upright. And they have to do all this within the constraints of the situation. With this array of demands, it should therefore not be surprising if effective leaders in business and politics are few and far between. 

Some years ago, I read “The Chancellors” by Edmund Dell. It is the history of the British Chancellors from 1945 to 1990. Some consider Edmund Dell as the best Chancellor Britain never had. At one point he was what could be considered as deputy Chancellor, but he never made it to the top job. According to Dell, most of the post war Chancellors were just not good enough. They were not effective leaders and some were in his view downright incompetent. Within British politics, the Chancellor is probably the 2nd most powerful man after the Prime Minister. Indeed many Chancellors have gone on to become Prime Ministers. Gordon Brown, John Major and Rishi Sunak are recent examples. Here was Dell, in a superbly written book, challenging the leadership capabilities and competence of the people at the highest level of British government. 

Dell was not the first and will definitely not be the last to criticize the lack of effective leadership of the Treasury. John Kenneth Galbraith was equally critical of the leadership within the US Treasury during the 1930s to 1960s. This goes to show how difficult it is to find effective leaders. So when next you demand all the above from your boss or political leader, spare them a thought. Theirs is a difficult job. The rewards of success are immense, but failure is more likely.

Another leadership book that I read years ago is “Why should anyone be led by you” by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. It offers excellent insights into what makes a great leader.  According to the authors, leadership is situational, relational and non-hierarchical. 

In general what is expected of the leader will be influenced by the situation. Winston Churchill was an outstanding war time leader who inspired the British to victory in the second world. However, he was largely ineffective in peace time and was booted out of office shortly after the war ended. 

Leadership is obviously relational, as there can be no leader without followers. It is also non-hierarchical as being the boss does not make you a leader. You need followers to be a leader and your subordinates can decide not to follow. Great leaders connect with their followers, inspire, excite and motivate them to higher performance. They provide a clearly articulated vision and above all get results. Leadership is not judged by its popularity but by its effectiveness. To be an effective and inspiring leader, the authors recommend the following: 

Be yourself more – with skill.

Know and show yourself – just enough.

Be prepared to take personal risks.

Read and then rewrite the context.

Remain authentic but conform where necessary.

Manage social distance well. Know when to get close, when to be distant and which behaviours are most appropriate.

Communicate with care. Effective leaders must pay close attention to how they are seen and heard. 

Above all to be a great leader, you must really want it. You must want it enough to make the sacrifices required and put in the necessary hard work to get results. So before you seek that elective office, ask yourself this question: Why should anyone be led by you?

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