Major and Blair cast as leading failures

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The Independent Online
John Major might be regarded as a "manager", but he is by no means a "leader", according to one of the world's leading experts on the subject.

John Adair, a specialist in the qualities needed for leadership, argues that Mr Major became Prime Minister by accident rather than design and that he had considerable difficulty with "the vision thing". He was a day-to-day manager of crises rather than a visionary, Mr Adair told the Institute of Personnel Development's annual conference in Harrogate yesterday.

Mr Major probably wanted to be Chancellor which was more suited to his talents as a manager, said Mr Adair, a visiting professor of leadership studies at the University of Exeter.

"He is a reflection of the amateur way in which people get to senior positions in British public life," he said. The Citizen's Charter, one of Mr Major's innovations, did not give people what they were looking for in a political leader.

In case the Labour Party might derive satisfaction from the analysis of Mr Major, Mr Adair argued there was nothing in Tony Blair's background to suggest that he would become "a really significant leader".

There was also a marked difference in the qualities required of a leader in the 20th century compared with that for the 21st, Mr Adair said.

Nelson Mandela was a leader for the next millennium and so was Gail Rebuck, chief executive of Random House UK. Margaret Thatcher and Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery were examples of the old style 20th century leader.

President Mandela was "probably the only great leader" in world politics. He once described himself as the servant of the people rather than their leader and that marked him out from those identified with the present century. In South Africa today there was a great nation, a great crisis and a great person, a combination which produced the essence of leadership.

Ms Rebuck combined all the technical competencies of leadership with great knowledge and led her publishing company in a "feminine way" and without the aggressiveness normally associated with 20th century leaders. She was both "a team builder" and a team member.

Lady Thatcher however had a clear sense of direction and a powerful determination to achieve certain goals, but she was by no means a member of a team. She had left relations with individuals to her deputy, Willie, now Viscount Whitelaw.

Viscount Montgomery was also a typical 20th century leader because while he was able to build a team, he never saw himself as a member of it and found it difficult to co-operate with American generals during the Second World War.

The leader of the future was someone who could demonstrate a greater empathy and concern for people and issues. Someone who did not rely on position or rank for their status. The 20th century leader was somebody who tended to have masculine and military qualities and who was arrogant but inspiring. According to Mr Adair, women looked for much more than just command. "They have a greater sensitivity and concern for issues and people, whereas the 20th century leader tended to emphasise the task at the expense of the person."

He predicted an increase in female leaders and that the contemplative Eastern approach would supersede the aggressive Western philosophy.

Organisations such as Marks & Spencer will be seen as "archaic" in the next century because its senior management was predominantly male while its workforce was largely female.

Humphrey Walters, a specialist in leadership training, said that organisations had hitherto used "high-fliers" as leaders, but they were often individuals who had learned to work the system, rather than good leaders.