In 2013, Ashridge gathered the views of over 200 managers about the changing nature of leadership¹. The overriding sentiment was around a paradoxical need for, and rejection of, heroic leaders. They concluded that heroism is still important but the nature of heroism has changed. Today’s heroes cannot be the slightly detached ‘ruling class’ as expectations of ‘followers’ have changed, they expect to be treated more equally, to be more empowered, to be given greater freedom, to have more autonomy.
Today’s followers expect their leaders to have some of the same heroic qualities as Superman but also to be more accessible, more connected, and perhaps more human like the TV detective John Luther. The paradox is this. On the one hand, leaders are expected to produce outstanding results in short order, to metaphorically leap tall buildings in a single bound, dust themselves down, play down the fact they are heroes and move onto the next burning building. On the other hand, they are expected to quietly observe the situation, gather facts, develop insights, build coalitions of the disaffected and solve today’s problems using the blinding insight of the London detective.
A tall order indeed for mere mortals like you and me to meet!
In today’s digital world of instantly available information, it is very difficult for a leader to maintain a carefully managed image. The real challenge for leaders today is to deploy the correct leadership style to suit the situation and the personalities of your followers. This is a judgement call and, like most judgement calls, some will be right and some will be wrong.
It is worth remembering that most of all a leader has to be ambitious, positive and future focussed as well as resilient and capable of fast recovery when things go wrong. These are attributes we all possess and they can be honed through practise, so the job of leading is well within the realms of all of us. Leadership is I believe a ‘contact sport’ learnt mostly in the sometimes brutal classroom of the University of Life, a University open to us all, but beware the fees can be very high!
One of the best descriptions of a leader I heard originated from the late Harvard Professor and business Guru C.K Prahalad who said:
“A leader always acts as if A>R whereas a manager has to behave as if A<=R – where A= ambition and R=existing resources”
Most of us have ambitions that exceed current reality, we just need to tap into the courage and determination to begin to make our ambitions our future reality. We can all do that if we choose to!
If you want to find out how I can help you close the gap between your personal aspirations current reality then please contact me and we can talk.
¹ The Ashridge Journal 360 Winter 2013/14 “Is leadership changing?” Colin Williams, Megan Reitz and John Higgins