UK: On the way up - Qualities that are not strained.

UK: On the way up - Qualities that are not strained. - On the way up - Qualities that are not strained - Shakespeare set the stage for today's business world with tales of power, bribery and nepotism. He also noted that leaders are made as well as born.

by WINSTON FLETCHER.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

On the way up - Qualities that are not strained - Shakespeare set the stage for today's business world with tales of power, bribery and nepotism. He also noted that leaders are made as well as born.

Shakespeare would have made a great management consultant. No question.

Had Arthur Andersen or McKinsey been around four centuries ago, young Will would likely have deserted the Globe for their lush and profitable pastures.

Power, jealousy, revenge, nepotism, bribery, sex - you'll find the everyday ingredients of modern corporate life brilliantly analysed in the bard's masterpieces. And he was equally as perceptive about leadership:

'Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.' - Twelfth Night

As always, he articulated in a few words many of the questions which we debate.

Is it possible - as I asked last month - for you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and become a leader if you weren't born with it in you? The answer, I suggested, depends on what kind of leader you want to be. Do you want to be a conformist leader like Tony Blair, a pretty average sort of guy who just does everything supremely well? Or an eccentric leader, such as Sir Winston Churchill, who inspires people by demonstrating a complete disregard for the rules of normal behaviour?

Doubtless you know of top managers who, although less extreme than Blair or Churchill, fall into one camp or the other. There are many routes to the top, thank goodness.

Let's start by addressing the question of inherited leadership powers.

Such natural leaders are often seen as having 'charisma', which literally means 'a gift from God' and implies that it is something you are born with, not something that can be acquired. Many writers say charisma is a yes-or-no characteristic: you have it or you don't. I disagree.

Just as we can all do arithmetic and play tennis - but not as well as Einstein or Sampras - we all have a modicum of charisma. We may not be charismatic spellbinders like Churchill, but we can persuade people to follow us if we go about things the right way. So my first piece of advice is that if you don't have powerful charismatic qualities, don't worry - and don't try to fake them. Simply make Blair, not Churchill, your model.

To be an effective conformist leader, you must display three essential qualities: consistency, consideration and initiative. An eccentric leader on occasion can be inconsistent or inconsiderate and get away with it.

People will excuse them, because they accept their charisma. For most of us, however, such behaviour negates our claim to leadership.

Little need be said about the first quality, consistency. There may be times when a change of mind, or even a change of heart, will be unavoidable.

They should be few and far between. When it comes to initiative and consideration, however, most of us can improve our performance considerably. Here are a dozen tips that may help:

Good leaders who display initiative never stop thinking of ways to deal with opportunities and problems; do not hug their ideas to themselves but discuss them openly; do not trash other people's ideas but try to develop them; give their staff challenging problems to solve; set clear deadlines and standards, and keep to them; and ensure that good ideas are put into practice.

Good leaders who show consideration do personal favours for colleagues; are willing to explain decisions; put staff at ease by being approachable; find time to listen; can be persuaded they have been wrong; and are not 'management hermits'.

Being considerate does not mean being soft. Leaders must often take harsh decisions. If the harsh decisions are seen to be necessary, people will respect the leader for taking them, even if they feel uncomfortable about them. Everyone knows life is not a bowl of cherries - especially not for managers on the way up.

Above all, every leader must have a vision - or to be more accurate, must have a constantly developing vision - and be able to communicate it. This is almost a tautology. You cannot lead, less still expect others to follow, unless you have a clear idea of where you are going. And when you get there, you will need to know where to go next.

All along, you must tirelessly persuade other people that the course you are taking is the right one. That is why politicians incessantly make speeches (in case you have ever wondered). Thinking constantly about your long-term objectives - and carrying everyone along with you - is the single most important characteristic of leadership.

Finally, conformist leaders, as well as eccentric ones, must occasionally break the rules. Successful leaders take risks. More importantly, successful leaders ensure the risks are shared with their team: 'All for one and one for all,' as The Three Musketeers of Alexander Dumas used to cry.

Having taken a risk, however, the leader must take personal responsibility for the outcome.

If you want to take credit for triumphs, you must take blame for flops.

Nobody respects a leader who tries to wriggle out when things go belly-up, leaving others to carry the can.

As president Harry Truman's great management maxim stated, when it comes to leadership: 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' Shakespeare couldn't have put it better.

Winston Fletcher is chairman of Bozell UK, the advertising group.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Subscribe

Get your essential reading delivered. Subscribe to Management Today