Is Rupert Murdoch fit to lead his own company? That is the question currently being debated by British MPs as the high profile enquiry into his company News International reaches new heights. But it’s not just global business magnates who should take heed - no manager should be afraid to ask themselves the same question.
News International is just the latest in a line of large corporations where the fitness of the leader has been called into question. In the case of banking giant RBS, was Sir Fred Goodwin fit to lead? And was Jeffrey Skilling fit to lead energy company Enron? History tells us the answer was 'no'. For CEOs and managers, clear lessons must be learnt from these very public falls from grace.
Are you fit to lead?
My question for any CEO and any leader is - are you fit to lead? If you are fit to lead, on what basis do you decide that? And are you striving to be the fittest i.e. the best you can be?
First we need to decide and agree on the role of a chief executive. Here are a few ideas:
• Be a creator of an inspiring vision and strategy
• Bring together great people and create an organisational structure that enables people to perform
• Be a great communicator to staff, customers and the communities they serve
• Develop a happy, open, high-performing culture
• Be aware of key issues and know when to drive through important decisions
• Drive accountability for execution against strategy, and deliver on goals
• Be a consistent role model of exemplary responsible leadership behaviour
• Develop strong relationships with the board, the executive team and the wider organisation
If you agree with these must-haves then the question is how do you as a CEO measure up?
Witness the fitness
The most common method to assess fitness is simply to measure performance against the business plan: 'If we exceed our targets, the shareholders are happy so everything’s great. Another fine year! Well done Mr CEO! Enjoy your bonus.'
But often not enough is done to assess, challenge and hold the CEO to account on all the other measures and these are often the lead indicators of what might happen in the future. Celebration of results only is fine in the short term, but it could come back to bite you in the longer term.
There is often a case of 'Emperor's new clothes' syndrome – a difference between what you can see reality. Leaders are often very powerful characters. They are tough to challenge and even tougher to hold to account in all areas. Everyone goes along with their success story and finds it too difficult to point out the negative side of their impact - until it’s too late. And the Emperor doesn't want to notice their own 'nakedness' either. Some people call this ‘wilful blindness’; in Murdoch's case he was allegedly wilfully blind about the extent of phone hacking.
So if you are the CEO or a business leader then let this enquiry be a wake-up call and an opportunity to reflect on your own fitness to lead. Optimum and sustainable organisational success will only be realised when CEOs are assessed and developed more thoroughly in all areas of their responsibility.
It's time for organisations and stakeholders to aspire to a more responsible and transparent level of leadership.
Martin Palethorpe is executive coach at The Pragma Group