City & Business: Lions and donkeys

Leadership and managerial decision-making ability, while often confused, are not the same thing. Never was this more true than in war: the Earl of Cardigan must have had extremely good motivation and communications skills to lead his 600 troops in the Charge of the Light Brigade, but in retrospect it was a truly awful management decision.

For that matter, one can argue that the whole of the British empire stood on good leadership and fell on bad decision-making. How else can one explain the decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries when a few hundred British administrators ran vast tracts of the globe and, with a few notable exceptions, maintained peace, and then experienced such a rapid denouement in the last 70 years.

Now, it seems, the opposite is true. The majority of leaders in Britain today (both business and political) are by training financial managers or lawyers, and it is their natural inclinations to make cautious, more or less wise, decisions based on boardroom consensus and suitable references to market research, forecasts, and the views of the City.

Leaders they are not - at least not in the traditional mould. It should of course be noted that the lack of a Lord Cardigan atop a major FT-SE 100 company is probably a good thing. Leadership, however, and all it entails - motivating employees, communicating vision, and above all taking risks against the grain of conventional wisdom -- cannot be ignored or, worse, derived from a financial model or consultant's report. Anyone who has seen a vision statement lately (the last one I saw, from a company that shall remain nameless, ran to two paragraphs, with three modifying clauses) will understand the problem.

The dearth of leadership talent was well illustrated last week by a KPMG survey, which asked 200 company directors to name the country's best business leader. The top choice was Richard Branson, who was admired for his ability to delegate large areas of responsibility to subordinates and his ability to motivate. No surprise there. However second and third place went to Sir John Harvey-Jones and Lord Hanson respectively, both in their seventies and neither taking a very active role in business any more.

I am not a great one for hand-wringing over British inadequacies - there are far too many things we do well as a country to dwell solely on failings. But would it not be a good idea for more leadership training to leak into graduate management training programmes, or even accountancy and law courses? If we are going to hand over the future of British industry to bean counters and legal types it would be useful if they could also act as team leaders, visionaries and risk takers when the occasion arose. We cannot rely on the system turning up another Branson naturally

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Guru Careers: Communications Exec / PR Exec

£25 - £30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a highly-motivated and ambitious Comm...

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral