Follow the leader

Ah, the great leadership debate.

What does it mean to you?

I’m no Manchester United fan but one of the best leaders in the business, Sir Alex Ferguson, said “You can’t aspire to be loved, because that isn’t going to happen, nor do you want people to be frightened of you. Stay somewhere in the middle and have them respect and trust and see you as fair.”

When you think about it in today’s modern Brexit dominated world, the continual churn of political figures simply shows how hard leadership is to define and that it means different things to different people.

Boiling it down to something more relevant, what about on a working level? Those of us at a certain age, will probably remember those who stood out as leaders as we begun our careers but what was it about them that resonated both then and now?

Personally, I need to respect a leader even if I might not 100% believe what they stand for (although that helps) and that respect has always generated by certain behaviours. Integrity, honesty and modesty are just some of those traits that have gained my respect. I think that human modesty, particularly in today’s digitally-driven, self-promoting society, stands out a mile, particularly if entwined with a courage of a leader’s conviction.

The late Nelson Mandela describes leadership as thus in probably one of the most eloquent messages on the leadership debate.

 “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” 

Therefore, when the invite came through for the Oystercatchers event ‘Navigating uncertainty: modern leadership challenges’ at The Ham Yard Hotel on September 11th it went straight into the diary. This was a good chance to hear from some commercial and cultural leaders and clear the head from the day to day.

Unfortunately, I was one of those back-of-the-room late arrivals thanks to our friends on the Jubilee Line and didn’t get a chance to grab a drink and network, but a healthy attendance indicated a keen interest in the subject no doubt inspired by a panel including:

  • David Wood, CEO Mothercare
  • Mary MacLeod, Korn Ferry Board Member, ex Conservative MP and advisor to the Queen.
  • Rankin, photographer, publisher and film director
  • Catherine Kehoe, Managing Director Group Brands and Marketing, Lloyds Banking Group.

The opening comment from host Suki Thompson resonated and set a theme that was related throughout the night “We have to learn to be human to be good leaders” confirming the fact that behaviours and attitude are the key driver in shaping leadership and that simply memorising a leadership manual does not wholly do the trick.

Themes were repeated throughout the evening with a tone more harmonic descant than the hammer of a pneumatic drill.

Each of the panellists touched on themes of authenticity, curiosity, bravery, belief, resilience with David Wood, leader of Mothercare who will have felt some harsh winds recently at the embattled yet iconic brand stating “competence and optimism in leadership leads to change” while Rankin, photographer extraordinaire stating early “I won’t do politics” clearing the decks for a true leadership debate.

One particular quote from the panel seemed to engender wide agreement “one of the core attributes for a leader is resilience but you need to recognise when you are running low and draw energy from your team” which for me, neatly encapsulates the point.

Leadership is about being strong but sometimes you are only good as the belief and trust that you place in your own people.

Thanks Oystercatchers – till the next one.

Dan Botten – Head of Insight, December 19