OVER THE past four years, I have had the privilege of interviewing some 120 business and community leaders on both sides of the Atlantic and more than 500 professionals with the substantive responsibility for developing leaders inside their own organisations.
When asked what specific qualities would help them to have a successful interaction, today's leaders put forward a large number. I hasten to add that every nice word in the Oxford English Dictionary is there. There are others, such as "uncommon sense", which are not even in the dictionary!
What I would like to do is to convey to you the flavour of the avenues that the 120 leaders who I interviewed found most useful in their own leadership style. At any rate, they also represent the most important ones in my full list of 14. These boil down to two generic sets of avenues.
In their formative years, these leaders had excellent role models, mainly in the form of parents and, to a lesser extent, teachers and famous historical figures such as Sir Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Montgomery and the Duke of Wellington. Many had early successes on the sports field, in the classroom, or in the wider community. These enabled them to take on ever more challenges. Some had personal crises, too, which threw them on their own resources fairly early in life, giving them self-knowledge in the face of untoward hardships. It also gave them the determination to get on with life, no matter what.
Once these leaders entered the world of work, an overwhelming majority had lateral moves, inside and outside their organisations, which enabled them to experience life in the trenches, understand the emotions of those who work there daily and establish a network of contacts.
A large majority also had excellent mentors, although they did not recognise their full worth until long after the encounters. If lateral moves are about self-learning, mentoring is about stimulated learning. But this is happening in only one in 10 organisations in Britain, which means that we have a real leadership gap
A notable number also had the opportunity to step out of the comfort zone by getting involved in community work. This helped them to influence the lives of people over whom they had little control. …