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
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk