How to be a good role model

Don't wait until you reach the top to learn the art of leadership, says John van Maurik

It has never been more important to mind your Ps and Qs. No, I do not mean being polite - although business leaders do have a moral obligation to be courteous. It is about being effective.

These Ps and Qs relate to a number of key talents required of business leaders at all levels if they and their organisations are to survive in these tough post-recessionary times .

In the workplace, leadership is needed as never before as good leaders give meaning in difficult and uncertain times. Often this "meaning" is not provided and in the interests of maximising shareholder value decision- makers keep a watchful eye on the quarterly figures rather than on the motivation of those generating them. All too often "staff" are regarded as expendable overheads rather than the true assets they are. What is also true is that the most visible and most meaningful leadership is often delivered not from the very top but by those at the general and middle levels of management.

It was with this in mind that I set out to examine the key talents required of tomorrow's leaders by interviewing a number of people regarded both by their organisations and their staff as effective when it came to leadership. The one over-arching criterion was that they should not be at the very top.

Excellent as Branson, Harvey Jones, Roddick and Gates may be, they are too far removed from the ordinary manager to be viable role models. The key question was "what are the messages from these unsung heroes and heroines that will help others be more effective as leaders".

Those interviewed included a variety of fascinating individuals in organisations as diverse as the Eastern Orchestra Board, the Metropolitan Police and Churchill Insurance and from countries as far apart as the UK, the USA, South Africa and Singapore. What emerged was that the existing attributes of leadership, such as having a vision, being able to persuade and acting as a change agent, were all still as relevant as ever. Significantly, however, three new requirements had come to the fore. These were the three Ps.

First, Purpose. Nearly all those interviewed had a strong desire to "do something with their lives". This went beyond straightforward ambition and was in no way connected to such traditional leadership concepts as having a vision for the future.

Instead, this sense of purpose was coupled with a strong desire to have led a useful life, to have achieved and not to have wasted either time or opportunity - in effect, to be all used up when it was over. As an elderly lady from North Carolina once told me when I said she was remarkably active for her years, "Honey, I want to burn out not rust out!"

Second, Politics. Nearly all those interviewed had difficulty in dealing with organisational politics. One of the main difficulties was that it was usually a silent game. They often did not know when it was being played and, moreover, none had been trained in how to cope with this phenomenon.

If company culture can be described "as the way that we do things around here" then perhaps company politics can be described as "the way we do things to people around here". It is a sad fact that wherever people gather together to tackle a task there will be tensions, rivalries, jealousies, hidden agendas and plain mischief.

What emerged was that to survive, you have to understand the political forces at work in order to appreciate the games that might be played against you. However, the interviewees emphasised that the "game" was not worth the sacrifice of one's own integrity and self-respect. So to survive the effective leader must be aware and must learn to apply the awareness in ethical ways. Key skills are those of questioning, listening, intuition and creating a united team that will in itself act to defuse politics.

Third, Process. The effective leaders were good at being able to facilitate teams and individuals so that they understand what needs to be done and what is expected of them.So managing the process is a leadership activity while instituting business process re-engineering might be seen as installing a management tool .

And what of the Qs? They are questions. Effective questioning is at the heart of it all. It helps the leader define the values that underpin his or her Purpose, it is essential in defining the cause or nature of Political games and, finally, open questions are the quintessential tool in the good Process facilitator's kit.

It is interesting to note that, of the skills outlined here, questioning techniques are the only ones to be formally taught. The others nevertheless remain crucial if leaders at the general manager level are to play their part in helping us all overcome the fear and dilemmas of operating in these post-recessionary times.

Talking of questions, here is another. Has the day of the conventional MBA passed? Perhaps we should be asking if the time has come for a Masters in Business Leadership and whether this is more relevant to today's pressing needs.

The writer teaches at Sundridge Park management centre. His book 'The Portable Leader' will be published by McGraw Hill in the summer.

News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
Lapping it up: a woman feeds felines at a cat café in Japan
newsThe vast majority of cat and dog 'wet foods' contain items not specified on the tin, study finds
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Junior Web Developer

£18 - 22k (DOE) + Benefits & Stock Options: Guru Careers: Junior Developer / J...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat