The ideal and the imperfect leader

The ideal and the imperfect leader

Richard Branson

Talent management these days tries to be very systematic about what makes for a great leader, even analysing and measuring the specific capabilities you need for your particular organisation and then trying to identify those who have these capabilities and, who, potentially, can develop them. The great spin off from this is the focus it brings to development and importantly, I think it leads good organisations to go much wider than just training or knowledge acquisition in developing the ability to actually perform and deliver results.

Now, you knew a ‘however’ was coming, didn’t you? So as not to disappoint, let me say I have worked with some shocking leaders and managers, some very mediocre ones and, Hallelujah, some amazing people who led exceptionally well. I never met a perfect leader – there’s always some flaw and sometimes the flaw is part of the attraction.

Behind all the competency analysis, leaders are only leaders because they have followers. Followers only follow because they see what the leader stands for and want to join in. That’s it!

Sometimes of course that turns out badly for everyone… no leader really, fully, understands where they are taking people and really, some have no idea at all yet people still follow! But it is essentially what leadership is.

Now I would say someone coming close to great leadership will have acoherent and compelling picture of a future (vision) to which they are headed with which others identify.

That vision should provide others with:

  • Personal sense of direction
  • Opportunity to master challenges
  • Coherent ways of getting things done in support of the vision (yes process and procedure are important!)
  • Honest and open relationships

The leader will also explicitly and specifically value:

  • Appreciating the contribution of others
  • Involvement
  • Giving others autonomy to decide on their actions in pursuit of the vision
  • A team atmosphere of both consistent support and direct challenge

Some leaders I have worked for came close to that outline – and what an exhilarating ride it was working with them! Others lacked in one or more, or emphasised one aspect most. But it occurs to me that often that lack, which was always felt, if not spoken about, was compensated for by something else that drew you to them, even their obvious need of help! I would say that, in the end what matters most is whether the job gets done and whether the team grew as a result. No one is perfect, but that doesn’t stop them delivering exceptional results.