It’s all about We

With the Labour party leadership nominations now confirmed, what should everyone be looking for in a leader to take them (or any enterprise with ambition) – into a successful future?

Personally, I find it astounding that some people palpably not suited to the top position are deluded enough to believe that they are natural heirs to a leadership position in politics or in business. There’s often an overwhelming ambition allied to a sense of entitlement; never attractive qualities in a leadership candidate (see a certain Macbeth of Scotland).

There is a stench of “it’s all about me” about them. The truth is that really great leaders are the ones that emit that ethereal sense of “it’s all about WE”.

There are fabulous and informative examples all around us of this difference. The TV series “The Island” demonstrates beautifully the idea that a bunch of individuals, all motivated by a selfish goal (can I survive), create disharmony, inefficiency and poor results, especially when contrasted with a group of like-minded individuals in pursuit of a common goal (can WE survive) as shown by, for example, the army. But of course selfish idiots make much more spectacular car-crash telly programmes.

So how do you find the successful leaders of the future? A recent study by a group associated with MIT identified the “C” Factor, which is a measure of IQ combining three separate tests into an average score said to predict which types of people get the best out of others and allow the others to perform at their best. Examples used are sports players such as Magic Johnson whose presence on court seemed always to lift the game of his team mates to a new level.

It is these ‘Catalysers’ that we should be looking to identify as our future leaders.

Some of the characteristics they will exhibit will be counter-intuitive:

  1. They will be intolerant – not of people but of poor effort and sub-standard performance. They will not shout their disapproval but will somehow create an environment where the sub-performer wants to do better both for themselves and for the leader. Churchill was such a one.
  2. They will be impatient – again, not with people but with the necessity to create forward momentum. JFK was one of these.
  3. They will be purposeful –  stand up for what they believe in, not be led by what the latest trend or opinion poll says they should espouse. They will have the courage of conviction. Mandela was one of these.

Last but not least, the best leaders will be compassionate. Compassion isn’t a word you hear used sincerely in business or politics very often. But all great leaders feel deeply as well as think. Ghandi was a great example.

Business and politics need compassionate leaders – because they are dealing with people’s lives not with units on a balance sheet.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if it was led by people who can catalyse others into being better? Wouldn’t leadership coaching be more effective if it focused on this attribute – the catalyst effect – as the core skill to be nurtured and cultivated in business, in our institutions and in society as a whole?

Let’s hope the Labour Party look beyond short term fixes and craven appeals to what they think the electorate will vote for. Let’s see a leader emerge who sets the highest of standards personally and, most importantly of all, exhibits the Catalyser effect. That way, we can all benefit, for the more of these people attain high position, the better off we will all be – regardless of your political standpoint.


Image (c) John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

David Kean
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