From workplace surveys I have found that most people want to be – and feel they could be – more effective leaders. Certainly they want their leaders to be more effective. But what do we mean by effective leadership in business? It would appear a simple question. Unfortunately, effectiveness is more easily recognisable when it is absent. Leaders who attempt to use business jargon and try out the latest ideas are too often seen as figures of fun. Whilst people frequently agree on what ineffective leadership is, clearly knowing what not to do is hardly helpful in practice.
Huge amounts of research have been done on this very wide subject. When you look at leadership in different ways, you see different things. While descriptions of leadership are all different, they are all true – and this is where disagreement arises. However, leadership is specific to a given context. The effectiveness of your actions is assessed in relation to the context and to the conditions under which you took them.
For a magazine article I wrote recently, I interviewed a publishing executive, author of several well-known publications, about what effective leadership is. It was significant that, at first, he did not mention his own company. He talked at length about what was happening in the industry – the mergers, takeovers and global nature of the business. Before he was able to describe his own objectives for the new publishing organisation he was setting up, he had to see a clear fit between these proposals and the larger situation outside. Obvious? Of course. But I have lost count of the number of leaders I have coached who believed that their ideas were valid whatever the situation.
At this point I should also mention another example, that of a finance director whose plan of action was not well received. The company he had joined had grown steadily for twenty years, serving clients who were in the main distrustful of any product that was too revolutionary. The finance director saw potential challenges from competitors and wanted his organisation to move with the times. Unfortunately, most staff below him were unwilling to change. I concluded that although there were certainly some personal skills he could improve upon, what he most needed to do was to communicate effectively with his subordinates, so that they all felt at ease with his different approach.
Some effective leaders believe they can control uncertainty because they know what the organisation should be doing and how to do it. Within the organisation itself, expertise is usually greatly valued, and executives are expected, as they rise within the system, to know more than those beneath them and, therefore, to manage the operation. A good example of this would be a firm of accountants I visited. Their business was built on selling reliable expertise to the client, who naturally wants uncertainty to be something only other companies have to face. Within this firm, giving the right answer was greatly valued, and mistakes were clearly to be avoided.
I am particularly interested in what aims leaders have and what their role should be in helping the organisation to achieve its strategic aims. Some leaders are highly ineffective when the aim doesn’t fit with the need, such as the manufacturing manager who was encouraged by her bosses to make revolutionary changes. She did, and was very successful. However, when she moved to a different part of the business, she carried on her programme of change. Unfortunately, this part of the business had already suffered badly from two mismanaged attempts at change. My point is that what her people needed at that moment was a steady hand, not further changes – she should have recognised that. The outcome was that within six months staff were calling for her resignation.
1. In the first paragraph, the writer says that poor leaders
A do not want to listen to criticism.
B do not deserve to be taken seriously.
C are easier to identify than good ones.
D are more widespread than people think.
2. Why does the writer believe there is disagreement about what effective leadership is?
A Definitions of successful leadership vary according to the situation.
B There are few examples of outstanding leaders available to study.
C Leaders are unable to give clear descriptions of their qualities.
D The results of research on the subject have concluded little.
3. The publishing executive’s priorities for leadership focused on
A significant and long-term aims.
B internal organisational aspects.
C professional skills and abilities.
D overall business contexts.
4. According to the writer, the finance director was unsuccessful because
A staff were uncomfortable with his style.
B existing clients were suspicious of change.
C competitors had a more dynamic approach.
D colleagues gave little support to his ideas.
5. Staff at the accountancy firm who were promoted were required to
A correct mistakes.
B have a high level of knowledge.
C maintain discipline within the organisation.
D advise clients on responding to uncertainty.
6. The example of the manufacturing manager is given to emphasise that
A managers need support from their employers.
B leaders should not be afraid of being unpopular.
C effective leaders must be sensitive to staff needs.
D managers do not always understand the attitudes of staff.