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Colborn’s Corner: How Do We Choose our Leaders?


Quentin Colborn
We are currently in the middle of the party conference season with politicians vying for the interest of not just their own party members, but also the public at large. This week Quentin takes a look at how we go about selecting people and questions how objective and rational we normally are.

Funny when you think about it, within HR we train line managers to write clear person specifications, help them with competence frameworks and ensure recruitment proceeds with no personal bias or discrimination. All well and good. In the best organisations these approaches are adopted regardless of the seniority of the roles to be filled. But what about really big jobs, those that involve life and death decisions about other people, those where our future security and economic prosperity are determined? Yes, of course I’m talking about politicians.

What do we make of the Tony and Gordon debate? Healthy for the nation or a distraction from the real issues facing this country? To my mind the key issues is not when will Gordon replace Tony (if he ever does!), but more why should Gordon replace Tony?

What I hear very little of is debate about the abilities of these people. There is much generic talk about skills and vision, but precious little about knowledge. But how good are we at identifying what we want in our leaders? How often do we look at what they have to offer as individuals and assess their ability to deliver? Compared with the world of work I suspect the answer is quiet rarely.

But does this matter? I would argue it does, while vision and public perception are key, they need to be underpinned by a sound knowledge of the matter in hand. While the public will normally grant leaders a 100 day honeymoon period while they establish themselves, what happens after that?

So how does this all relate to the world of work? Firstly, remember that in filling roles there are some underpinning competences and knowledge that cannot be done away with. No matter the level of personal charisma, if the basic aren’t in place then the whole proposition comes tumbling down. But what of charisma and influence? Big issues for politicians (with a few exceptions!), who normally display them by the bucket load, but in the real world less key where potential success is measured by achievements within the work environment.

I’m not intending to simply mock politicians, many strive to do their best to make a worthwhile contribution to the communities they serve. Rather I am encouraging us to look at the political system and see what lessons can be taken into the workplace where people are not so dispensable and where those who do the selecting should fall or stand by their decisions – after all, when it comes to politicians we choose them!

What difficulties has your organisation experienced in recruitment and how did you go about addressing the issues? Let’s have some success stories shared about good practice and how we have enabled competitive advantage through effective recruitment.

Quentin Colborn is an independent consultant who helps organisations address strategic issues within HR. If you would like to contact Quentin directly he can be reached at Quentin Colborn or on 01376 571360.


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