The first leader any human encounters is her/his parent. And, as small children, we trust our parents implicitly – certainly until our teenage years and beyond, when we have to find our own ways in the world. So, if you are intending to lead anyone then a certain amount of trust is called for among the led. You need to be believed and believed in. Trust is a scarce commodity out there in a world currently filled with doubt and scepticism. But this crisis of trust is really a crisis in leadership. Governments, businesses, the third sector have talked trust to death in recent times but until they start behaving in trustworthy ways this deficit will remain.
The paradox is that this deficit has meant “leadership” has become the buzzword of the moment. Everybody wants leadership. To create it, develop it, buy it, imitate it. Just what is its secret? Answers come in the cascade of business books on the subject that have spilled out over the last decade, but the mystery around leadership prevails.
Margaret Heffernan points out that one of the biggest challenges for leaders now is dealing with the unprecedented complexity of the current landscape. Leaders have to consider both complex macro challenges such as terrorism, cyber attacks and climate change alongside the day-to-day politics of managing internal change programmes, investor demands and the 4 personal development of their teams. Adaptive behaviours and experimentation are both galvanizers and vital to survival, argues Dr. Arlo Brady. He acknowledges that some of the most successful companies right now are finding ways to engage their customers on a deeper-level by turning societal problems into opportunities. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan acknowledges the responsibility to tackle societal issues in our capital by empowering local leaders to focus on fostering supportive, open and progressive micro-cultures in the city.
Dr. Charlie Howard, a clinical psychologist working with young people to prevent youth violence, demonstrates the power of constructive conversations had on-the-ground with young people, which is exactly what Ade Adelekan, a man with one of the toughest jobs in the Metropolitan Police, takes pride in doing. He identifies empathetic conversations with people “teetering on the edge” of a life of crime as critical to understanding complex societal problems.
Understanding human motivations, whether that concerns breaking the law or excelling in performance targets is undeniably important. If leaders are to lead effectively, they must understand both the competing motivations of people and the system that is created by them. Matthew Taylor presents his thinking on four different motivations of people and makes a case for each to be heard and respected, if anything is to change.
The complexities that arise from human connection, or lack thereof, is something that is little explored in traditional leadership books, so it makes sense to acknowledge the role of friendship and friendliness in today’s working contexts. Jonathan Gosling asks, can friendship flourish more easily in non-hierarchical organisations? And to what end is that useful?
Hierarchy is increasingly under attack in contemporary leadership thinking, however there is little doubt that hierarchical organisations can deliver impressive results. Edward Amory explores this in his reflections on working in successful and enduring organisations – The Daily Mail and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, both led by authoritative leaders with strict hierarchies. Contrast this with two new and very different organisations altogether – Buurtzorg and Extinction Rebellion (XR) – explored in interviews with Jos de Block and Chris Taylor. Both organisations have found success through principles of self-organising, modern technology and autonomy led by values, not direction from the top.
Whether you are loved or loathed, authoritative or egalitarian, ensuring that sh*t gets done should not be underestimated. Daryl Fielding highlights that female leaders are often strong performers operationally but that they can be frequently overlooked for more ‘visionary’ male leaders. In her experience, diversity and healthy conflict are vital ingredients for high performing teams. The importance of collective endurance and resilience is echoed in Paula MacKenzie’s article on leading through crisis, which demonstrates that a team’s most challenging moments 5 may in fact be the making of them.
Gathering diversity of experience is something Martha Lane Fox also advocates – an entrepreneur at the beginning of her working life, who has later worked in NGO and governmental roles, she encourages women to embrace being generalists: “Don’t be scared or feel insecure about not being in a box”.
Greater parity for male and female leadership continues to be campaigned for against the backdrop of the cult of the ‘strong male leader’ making a global comeback. Many leaders in powerful positions appear overtly corrupted by power itself, but there are things that can be done to counteract this, explains Ruth Turner.
‘Leadership’ (good and bad) is everywhere. Meanwhile, mediums like social media have, in many ways, made followers of us all. If one thing is true, it is that there is no single recipe to achieving success as an organisation, or a leader. This journal does not precisely identify the recipe for leadership’s “secret sauce,” but explores some of the ways successful leadership can be cultivated. By convening abroad range of perspectives, from thinkers and practitioners, politicians and businessmen and women, “Unfollow” encourages every reader to eschew passivity and think more actively about the models of leadership we want and need to meet the challenges of today.