Search for lead­ers hard and takes a toll on fam­ily


I WAS hav­ing a chat with a good mate of mine over a cup of cof­fee. For no ob­vi­ous rea­son we found our­selves talk­ing about lead­er­ship and man­age­ment of peo­ple. Some­body must have slipped some­thing mean­ing­ful into our cof­fees.

We started our con­ver­sa­tion with an ob­vi­ous and very com­mon thought. Is there any real dif­fer­ence be­tween the lead­er­ship of peo­ple and the man­age­ment of those peo­ple? An­swer: Yes, there most cer­tainly is ...... but it is a lot more com­pli­cated than that.

No mat­ter how ex­cel­lently the man­age­ment team might per­form, it will be vastly more ef­fec­tive if it is em­pa­thet­i­cally and ef­fec­tively led. The task of pro­vid­ing that ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship re­lies upon man­age­ment recog­ni­tion that “lead­er­ship ain’t that easy”.

The man­age­ment team “must want to be led” and be open to that process... It is worth re­al­is­ing that, no mat­ter how good the man­age­ment process is, it will be even bet­ter if it clearly un­der­stands why things have to be the way they are and the rea­son(s) for that.

Lead­er­ship is much about mak­ing sure the man­age­ment team un­der­stands why things have to be as they are... This can only oc­cur if the team is part of the di­rec­tion-set­ting process while al­ways recog­nis­ing that there will be times when they don’t agree with the lead­er­ship’s ap­par­ent pri­or­i­ties. That’s when lead­er­ship clar­ity and good sense be­come im­por­tant.

Is what is be­ing asked of the man­age­ment team “rea­son­able”? Have the man­agers been given real op­por­tu­nity to be part of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process? Af­ter all, it is of­ten the man­agers who are the ex­perts in de­tailed needs, skills avail­able, train­ing re­quire­ments and be­liefs about what are ap­pro­pri­ate ex­pec­ta­tions.

Lead­ers must lis­ten to that pool of knowl­edge, use it or, some­times, re­ject it... and make it clear why.

So, we asked our­selves whether some peo­ple are born to be lead­ers. I was born long enough ago in Eng­land to have ex­pe­ri­enced the era when many peo­ple be­lieved that there was only a sub-group of peo­ple who were “good enough’’ to lead the rest of us. The large ma­jor­ity of the rest of us weren’t.

We asked our­selves the sim­ple ques­tion “Do lead­ers ‘emerge from the pack’ what­ever we do or don’t do, or should we al­ways be on a ‘seek and find’ mis­sion”?

Our view was that, at least in a sen­si­tive work en­vi­ron­ment, lead­ers, or po­ten­tial lead­ers, be­come ev­i­dent very quickly. It is in­cum­bent on se­nior staff in par­tic­u­lar to be aware of this pos­si­bil­ity. Some­times ex­ist­ing staff can be “sur­prised” to find who emerges and who needs to be dis­cour­aged. The wrong per­son vig­or­ously want­ing to be the boss can be a very dis­turb­ing work­place phe­nom­e­non.

Spot­ting po­ten­tial lead­ers is one key chal­lenge to the ex­ist­ing lead­er­ship and a cru­cial com­po­nent in de­vel­op­ing and re­tain­ing a happy and ef­fec­tive work­force. “Dis­cour­ag­ing the op­ti­mists” is im­por­tant as long as you don’t dis­cour­age the wrong peo­ple...

We thought long and hard about the age-old prob­lem of how a leader (or other se­nior staff mem­bers) can re­tain a bal­ance be­tween work and per­sonal life. We nearly con­cluded that, ex­cept in most generic terms, it was not pos­si­ble; sad, even worth striv­ing for... but re­gret­tably kind of in­evitable.

The best one can hope for is that those who one cares about are sup­port­ive and that the to­tal lifestyle and its re­wards are worth the hours and ef­forts that go into achiev­ing lead­er­ship of a top team. I think they are... usu­ally.

I am cer­tain that no-one should ac­cept a lead­er­ship role un­less he or she can also ac­cept the fact that they will be “on call” no mat­ter what is go­ing on in the rest of their lives. That sug­gests the im­por­tance of a strong and un­der­stand­ing per­sonal life and great part­ner­ship from those around you.

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