It helps, of course, if you are born bursting with confidence and charisma like Bill Clinton or Tony Blair. But all the experts say you can learn a lot too. And that is where business schools and organisations such as the Leadership Trust come in. They run anything from short courses to Masters degrees, and even PhDs, for senior managers, directors and chief executives. Exeter University has a Centre for Leadership Studies, the only one in Europe, where managers, entrepreneurs and administrators come out with a diploma or MA.
Many chief executives are, however, not prepared to give the time to a degree or diploma course. For them Henley Management Centre's five-day residential programme is ideal. It is run by Estelle Bowman, who used to be part of the Cabinet Office's Efficiency Unit and has also led executive development initiatives for the Australian government. The course introduces students to ideas about leadership related to their own circumstances. Although it is called a "leadership" programme, those attending also learn about management because, as Ms Bowman says, if you haven't got good management practices (eg proper financial control), no amount of brilliant leadership qualities will compensate.
"We try to focus on the issues of leadership, aligning employees behind a common vision and some values, inspiring and motivating them, winning their hearts and minds," she says. "It's become more important because of the turbulence and lack of certainty in the external world. Leadership is about change. It's not about ticking over and doing things a bit better than you did yesterday."
The participants are addressed by outside speakers such as Sir Denys Henderson, chairman of Rank, Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment and Stephen Venables, the mountaineer.
Leadership is vital in mountaineering. It is essential that the group works as a team but, of course, the motivation for the individual climber is often intensely individualistic, not to say egotistical. Venables usually talks about an Everest expedition he went on 10 years ago in which he had a worm's eye view of leadership. "Good leaders are people who are good listeners," says Venables. "They need to value people's differences."
What applies on Everest can equally apply to business. Henley's programme is designed for people in top jobs, often when they have just moved into them.
The top job can be lonely, says Ms Bowman. "While you do try to build a team, at the end of the day there's still an element of competition in an organisation. So the dynamic is tricky for the person at the top, which is why there are so many chief executives these days who have external coaches or mentors."
Those attending the programme tend not to have been on any kind of management development training course. They are people who have their own business or are running small to medium-sized businesses.
Built in to the Henley programme is "360 degree" feedback, so called because everyone the chief executive deals with - subordinates, peers and customers - are asked to give their views on the boss's performance. "Quite often people say it's the most valuable bit of the course," says Ms Bowman.
Only one or two of the 12 participants are women. On the last Henley programme was Mrs Vivienne Eden, director of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers for the past six years, who says she learnt an enormous amount, in particular how to distinguish between different types of leader and how to recognise her weaknesses "If there is one thing I took out of the course, it was how to take criticism," she says. "This was the area where I didn't score well on the feedback form."
Mrs Eden was given help on how to deal with criticism by another person on the programme, and she has found it has worked. Now, instead of hitting the roof when a member of staff criticises her, she says she is very disappointed to hear them making the criticism. "If you hit the ceiling, they feel they were justified in making the criticism in the first place," she says. "I have learnt to do my decision making with a degree of sharing and asking for staff views. It may not change my decision but nevertheless their input is quite useful."
Henley's leadership programme costs pounds 2,900 plus VAT and takes place from 19 to 24 September this year.Reuse content