The boss becomes one of us

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The Independent Online
NO leader deserves the unconditional confidence of his people, the Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng claimed. Yet many potential leaders are not fully capitalising on the confidence they do engender in others, and are stuck near the bottom of the ladder.

That is the conclusion of a new report, Liberating Leadership, for which the Industrial Society questioned 1,000 employees. The survey found that, as a result of flatter organisations, employees were keen to ditch the idea of a "boss" and instead work for leaders who gave space for them to perform well with little supervision.

"We asked people to describe a situation in which they had experienced good leadership, whether or not the leader had a position of authority and whether the situation happened at work or outside," says the report.

"It was interesting to note that 81 per cent of respondents identified people who were not in a position of authority. You do not, it seems, need to be a manager to be a leader."

Employees named certain desirable traits on a sliding scale. Top of the list was the ability to show enthusiasm, while support for other people and recognising individual effort came second and third. Good listening and directive skills came next, followed by personal integrity, practising what you preach and encouraging teamwork among colleagues.

Agreeing targets and taking decisions, surprisingly, were at the bottom of the list of perceived essentials. Characteristics such as self-belief, passing on credit for others' work and trusting one's staff to get on with the job were voted necessary long-term behaviours, and successful leaders were those who challenged and changed systems, if necessary. Despite the gradual disappearance of the "glass ceiling" in many professions, respondents perceived leaders to be twice as likely to be male as female.

Leadership practices and the ability to build trust were perceived as separate skills. The report uses the model of a yacht to demonstrate its results; leadership practices represent the hull, and the below-water keel is the leader's individual driving beliefs. The rudder represents the level of trust between leader and employee.

"If the hull and keel are sound, people will be more willing to get on board and stay on board. They can recognise that the vessel will be able to cope with storms and change. The sails can be seen as the commitment level of the crew," says the report.

"For leaders and staff to reach their destination smoothly with a committed crew, not a compliant press gang, the vessel needs both a deep hull and a strong keel."

Industrial Society head Tony Morgan says: "By the mid 1990s it was clear that organisations were looking for something different to the old com- mand/control style of management."

Professor Amin Rajan, chief executive of the Centre for Research in Employment and Technology in Europe, agrees that the leadership paradigm has changed - but argues that Britain is not breeding the right kind of leaders for a new era. "When you re-engineer a company on the scale that has been done, you are essentially transforming the whole engine-room. You have to ask a basic question: do we have senior managers who have the skills and values necessary?" says Professor Rajan, who is chief speaker this week at "Trust Me, I'm a Leader", an Oxford Training seminar.

"People who were managing old-style companies and who were managing change - their leadership style hasn't changed; it is still the old macho style. Entrepreneurial skill and intelligence were very important in the 1980s - what I call the Hanson model, making a quick buck - but now we have the Branson model. You're still in the business to make money but you have to have wider considerations for your staff and society. You need the ability to inspire trust and motivation." He believes there will be a shift towards this model, but adds that the UK is still turning out the wrong type of leader. "Leadership and education programmes are still geared towards producing leaders who are no longer needed."

'Liberating Leadership' costs pounds 175. Phone 0121-454 6769 to order.