31st January 2019

The need for great leaders

The Demise of the Heroic Leader

Winston Churchill, Martin Johnson, Steve Jobs, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Bill Gates; whoever we think of when we think of great leaders we will tend to think of individuals. We think of individual, heroic leaders metaphorically riding in on a white charger to take control of the situation and lead her people from peril to victory, or something along those lines.

Great leaders

The reality is very different I would argue and every great leader has always had a team of leaders around them. It has always been a team effort. When Martin Johnson’s England won the rugby world cup all those years ago he said it was because there were fifteen leaders on the field. Leadership is very much a team game; it always has been and always will be.

The role of the traditionally perceived leader is long gone. We can no longer kid ourselves that it could exist no matter how romanticised our view of the world may be. The world is moving too fast, it is too complex, too changeable and too uncertain to allow just one person to have all the answers, to know everything, to be the master of all trades anymore; if indeed that was ever true.

Building a team

Those who know and understand that can profitably direct their efforts and energies in building a collaborative and cohesive team. Those who don’t know and don’t understand that will find themselves getting ever more frustrated by trying to solve the challenges of today with the thinking and structures that barely withstood scrutiny back in the past.

Complexity isn’t just a function of growth or size. Our 21st century world brings a whole level of complexity that previous generations could never have dreamt of. We live in a world of much greater transparency, of much closer and more open scrutiny, of much greater connectedness and much more heavily policed compliance. We live in a world that is changing at an astounding pace.

Developing a great mindset

Peter Drucker once observed that his parents had been printers in Amsterdam between 1510 and 1750 and during that whole time they didn’t have to learn anything new. I heard someone say recently that since he was born 60 years ago the population of the planet had increased by a factor of 2.5 to 3. I couldn’t believe it and so I checked. It is true. The world’s population has doubled between 1970 and today.

Given that rate of change we can very easily find ourselves holding on to ideals and practices that are no longer fit for purpose.

I would argue the concept of the heroic leader is one of those and yet there has never been a time of greater need of leaders and leadership. We owe it to ourselves to embrace and develop collaborative organisations and leaders who can operate in this way and to develop the skills and mindset and practices that will allow us all to be the leaders the world needs today.