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Derek Bishop

Culture Consultancy


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To Be the Very Model Of A Modern Business Leader


In 1879 when Gilbert and Sullivan sat down to write the rather boastful song of the Modern Major-General from the Pirates of Penzance, they little thought that it would become one of their best known pieces, repeated and parodied through successive generations.  And yet this satire on the way in which the Major-General believes that, though his knowledge of warfare is well out of date, his knowledge of history, the arts and mathematics will carry him through can still teach us a thing or two today, particularly in the field of leadership.

The stark truth is that leadership has moved on and yet some leaders are still stuck in the last century.  We can all point to examples; leaders who believe that they only have to express a whim and it is done, who operate a virtual dictatorship and who believe that employees are there to serve and customers should know what is good for them.  Generally these leaders operate via a multi-layer of underlings who filter commands down and truths up so that everyone finishes up with a distorted view of the organisation.

If dictatorship is out, what has taken its place in the modern business world?  We still need leaders to be a figurehead, to drive the organisation forward and to act as a catalyst for ideas and change.  But we also need them to lead not by dictatorship but by empowerment, to move from a hide bound rule book towards a culture of innovation in which employees are encouraged to take the initiative and in which customers are valued.

But isn’t empowerment old news?  The economic crisis has in many organisations triggered a change of leadership behaviour, often which is counter to enabling empowerment.  Authority levels have been reduced, risk averse decision making is evident and policy or procedure based decision making being more common.

Today’s business world is very different from that of yester-year.  Just as the Modern Major-General had to learn to adapt to modern tactics and gunnery, so the business of today has to adapt to a world in which every organisation has access to the same levels of technology.  The differentiator nowadays is in how something is done, not what is produced.  This has moved the focus firmly towards customer choice and preference. In effect the organisation which adopts a culture of innovation is one which puts exceptional service at the heart of business.

But as with any culture change, if the leader is not there formulating the strategy and driving the change it will be sucked into the quicksand of silos and inertia.  So the leader needs to be strong and have exceptional communication skills to get the message out in a way in which it will be understood and assimilated.  And this is not easy.  We now live in a multi-generational, multi-cultural society and the outstanding leader needs to be able to communicate to every employee and to engage enthusiasm across the board.  The leader also needs to be successfully managing the “business as usual”, including maintaining consistency and continuous improvement, whilst also managing the future which requires encouraging flexibility, experimentation, change and responding with agility to radical shifts

Leading the way towards innovation culture is not rocket science but it does require clear leadership and a leap of faith.  As you empower employees to take the initiative, to work together, to be proactive, you have to be prepared for the occasional failure.  More importantly you have to be able to turn failure into a positive learning experience rather than a cause for blame.  This takes an exceptional understanding of people, of motivators and of drivers.

So are you the very model of a modern business leader? 

Do you step up as a catalyst for the change to innovation?

Do you inspire and lead and share as you communicate your vision?

Then well done you’re the model of a modern business leader.

One Response

  1. Quote

    I really love this quote by Lao Tzsu:

    "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."

    I think it sums it up rather nicely. The leader should be barely noticed when things go well. We're in an age of egos, and some leaders must love being the center of attention. Maybe that's the reason Sir Alex Ferguson was so successful, and so has been his successor, David Moyes.

    Richard Lane, durhamlane, specialising in sales training courses.

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Derek Bishop


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