Inside Business: It's lonely at the top

These are tough times for leaders. At the very top, the many high pay rises must sometimes seem little compensation for the barrage of criticism. Lower down, there is confusion about what the spreading of leadership around organisations really entails.

One area of confusion is meetings. Received wisdom has it that the modern leader lets everyone have their say and lavishes heavy praise on those who have done something worth while.

However, according to research recently published in the US, it might not always be good to talk. Professor Randall Peterson, of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, says that when group discussions get out of control - say, when somebody dominates the session - the leader is expected to exert some control.

Professor Peterson's paper, "Too Much of a Good Thing? The Limits of Voice for Improving Satisfaction with Leaders", suggests that employees rate decisions reached at the end of discussions more highly if the group has not been "held hostage" by a single person with a strong character.

The point is that there is a fine line between consultation and lack of direction and, even in these days of supposedly flatter organisations, people often look for a lead.

Nowhere is this need more apparent than in the area of corporate values. Most people will agree on the values that organisations should have - trust and mutual respect, for example - but unless somebody makes it clear that these are the key to how things get done, they will be seen as nice add-ons of little genuine importance.

According to the management consultancy AT Kearney, the ability to get things done is a key attribute of the effective leader. Pointing out that we hear a lot about the need to engage hearts and minds, Anne Deering, the firm's head of knowledge, stresses the importance of what she calls "intent to act". In other words, chief executives have got to get on and do some of these tasks rather than just talk about them.

It sounds obvious. But, for all their supposed zeal and commitment, chief executives are not always keen on the sort of action that is required. The latest issue of Fortune magazine has a cover depicting the faces of a number of failed chiefs. All are held to have failed in one particular way: lack of execution.

Translated, that means they did not get on with implementing the solutions judged necessary for survival.

It sounds poor - and in a sense it is. But it is also understandable. At a time when every decision of senior executives is called into question, even the most arrogant are going to want to weigh up the options just one last time before they push a button and unleash far-reaching consequences.

Surely this is another reason for us to abandon the notion that in the modem age one man or woman can possess all the skills, qualities and insights required to be a chief executive.

Perversely, it might turn out to be a little easier to fill all these chief executive vacancies if it were made clear that at least two people were being required for each position.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links