Jeremy Raymond
August 2008
Leadership has risen up the agenda for most organisations and also ambitious people. Management
is not quite dead of course, but is in danger of being relegated to large scale bureaucratic
organisations, and nobody wants to admit to being part of one of those, or do they? Leadership is
equally in danger of becoming a panacea for every problem in the book; lack of strategy, lack of
employee engagement in the purpose of the organisation, increasing complexity from geographic
spread and more varied forms of competition, too little trust in senior management and so on
So everybody wants to know how to be a better leader and the market is full of solutions. This article
tries to cut through the hype associated with leadership development and suggest a few practical
things that managers can do if they find that they are being expected to lead more than manage
This research for this piece of work has not been systematic .It is based on observational data
collected on 4 years tutoring on a range of Business School leadership programmes with different
companies, and coaching senior managers for nearly twice that. My conclusions are entirely
personal, but the model of leadership development that I have derived seems to make sense to
senior managers.
Jeremy Raymond
What’s driving the need for more leadership and less management?
Organisations pay a lot of money for leadership development programmes, because in todays
fragmented, globalising world being a good manager is just not enough. With apologies to Warren
Bennis, who was one of the early thinkers on this theme here are some the basic differences;
Managing is mainly about delivering the task. Leading is mainly about influencing and
inspiring people
Managing seeks to reduce risks to delivery today. Leadership works with strategic risk as an
inevitable part of any future, and not wholly predictable scenario
Managing is about telling people what to do. Leading is about showing them what to do
Managing is about working with complexity. Leading is about applying judgement to simplify
Managing is about working through people, running the team. Leading is about setting an
example of professionalism, as part of the delivery team
As the working environment changes leadership matters more.
The task of businesses is becoming more complex, channels to market and proliferating and
competition is more intense. But competitors collaborate too, so the old certainties about
what business we are in, who are competitors are and so on are getting blurry
Working groups tend to be more ad hoc, separated by geography and time zone.
Membership is becoming more “voluntary” as people increasingly have to make their own
priorities about which meetings to attend. Groups also co-opt members for specific tasks.
One day you are the boss, the next you are the expert; sometimes you are just a team
member. Authority has to be continuously earned
People in organisations are becoming more self determining, less open to “being managed”
and more diverse in terms of cultural mix. The more talented can pick and choose, and the
younger ones are increasingly exhibiting “Generation Y “ characteristics
The challenges for senior management and organisational leaders are increasingly to
Make sense of the complexity for people (Prioritising is key)
Establish trust between people in groups who do not know each other well
Create a sense of common identity both inside and outside the company
Inspire different stakeholders to want to be part of this great adventure
Corporations have historically been good at getting compliance; their size and solidity attracts those
who want to belong and maybe like to keep their heads down. This switch from biddable team
manager to innovating, self starting leader can be tough. The risks increase (you still get hammered
for getting it wrong) and suddenly the sort of exposure to which only Board members were
subjected is everywhere. Making the right judgements – commercially, politically and interpersonally
– gets more critical in a riskier world with few clear boundaries. To perform well, everybody needs to
lead sometimes. It is no longer a hierarchical concept
How this all looks to managers
Managers sent on a business school course to “learn leadership” might expect that
• Either it will be a bit like learning finance or marketing
• Or that they are on a fools errand as they already know they are not Ghandi, Mandela or
Of course, if they have been listening, the rumour mill will have told them that it is all about
feedback, awareness and subjects like emotional intelligence, because most leadership programmes
start with the notion that the foundations of better leadership are knowledge not of concepts, but of
For some this is rather scary, because large organisations are full of judgements of other people.
Indeed these judgements are used to control people and, in the short term, to try and motivate
better performance and more effort. Performance appraisals, Salesperson of the year, Employee of
the month … so it goes on. Many managers have internalised this and are already extremely self
critical. The thought that further data about their leadership ability will be leaked from the
programme is, with justification, a source of anxiety
Of course not everybody feels like this. As Leadership programmes tend to be associated with elites,
talent pools and the like, many people sent on such events see this as an accolade, or maybe a
vindication of their dedication to the company. They are confident that although there is much to
learn, they are already seen as high performers and probably as high potential too, with
“tomorrow’s leaders” on their card. They may be sceptical of what academics or coaches (who surely
know little of their world) can offer
Between these two positions – the fearful and the fearless – lie any number of variations.
Overburdened managers who see the programme as the organisation’s way of adding to their
enormous “to do” list, people near to retirement who wonder why they have been included with the
“young turks”, people who see this as a reward for their devotion. And of course Executive
education does reflect this mix of the lash and the lollipop. In fact leadership development
programmes have evolved in different ways within different organisations, everything from
meditating on a flame to abseiling down mountains
What leadership education provides
Most courses that I have worked on, or know about, share some common features although not all
programmes will include all of these
Increased awareness of the individuals “profile” as a leader. This is often done with a mix of
360 performance feedback and psychometrics or other more specialised instruments to
assess individuals and compare them to others. On a practical level behavioural feedback
from tutors and fellow participants is also common
Development of a group within which to discuss performance issues and behaviour The long
history of the “group-as-laboratory” for exploring behaviour works well for leadership as
much as other sorts of behaviour, Some programmes nominate individuals as the group
leaders for specified tasks, others explore who emerges as the leader, others simply use the
group to share experiences of leadership in the workplace. Since leadership is about leading
others into new experiences, many programmes are based around the idea of taking the
group into unfamiliar or physically challenging territory
Input from role models There’s an industry of experts who come and talk about their own
experiences as leaders – often in the sporting or commercial arenas. Many have well-turned
acts which provide some relief from the rather intense introspection of some of the other
Case study work to debate the principles of leadership. Professors are comfortable with the
fairly well-trodden paths associated with case study review work, although some go further
and invite participants to develop their own case studies based on real life experience. Case
studies work well to highlight the dilemmas and principles of leadership. They may offer
some consolation as well.
Practical work to test out new ways of leading and being Some programmes include
simulations and skill development sessions to challenge the participant to develop their
skills. Many of the activities are observed and the feedback helps the participant to improve.
Key skill areas are usually in formal and informal communications, where the person as well
as the messages will be judged. Many programmes also have a project component to test
the participant’s ability to lead back at the workplace. This may be supported by coaching or
action learning sets
Development plans. Since leadership is a task that is never complete, neither is the process
of learning how to do it. Most programmes identify individual aspects of leadership to
improve. This plan may be supported by coaching.
What affects your ability to develop your leadership repertoire?
You may well be wondering “But does any of this work?” and like all learning processes the answer
must be qualified.
If you compare leadership skill improvement to almost any other sort of learning agenda, the will
element in leadership is far more important than the skill. You have to be motivated to lead in order
to really improve, rather like an athlete has to be motivated to win in order to tolerate the hours of
punishing training. More importantly you have to want to lead in order to be a leader. Leadership is
this odd mix of doing and being. It can be lonely, depressing and hard on your family even as it can
be invigorating, exciting and a huge source of pride. Courses which are paid for by organisations
cannot afford to omit the motivational element –what I think of as the “noble calling” component of
the pitch. If all the participants return saying “It was great, - really interesting, excellently organised,
most thought provoking…. but I don’t think I want to / am cut out for being a leader” then the
company will want their money back
What drives this “requirement to be the leader” is actually quite complex because the enablers of
leadership development can also be its inhibitors. This framework identifies 4 factors in how rapidly
you will learn leadership
Much leadership research has focused on the role of personality and which attributes help or hinder
your ability to lead better. The same is true for your propensity to learn how to lead. For example, if
you are naturally extrovert you may have some advantages in challenging leadership simulations as
you will be more comfortable if some high energy communication is required. But there seems to be
no evidence that you will be any less good as a leader if you are introverted – you will just need to
make more effort under those circumstances. If you are very determined as a personality, you may
well overcome any disadvantages. This is the part of the leadership equation which we cannot
change; we can only work with it. The interplay between skills and personality are important here;
deciding when not to behave in your normal way may enhance your ability to lead by surprising
people – and the opposition
Values influence what you are prepared to get emotional about and what stirs you to want to lead.
Often people only realise their leadership potential when they find their values attacked or insulted.
Defending something close to your hearts may be the motivation for even a person with no
experience to engage with the problem and find themselves in a leadership role. They may also be
able to lead better when their work is closely aligned with personal values – and may feel low energy
when the task offends their cherished beliefs or sense of morality. Again values are only really
changed by major life events, so for most this is a fixed component in the mix. The interplay
between the environment and values is particularly important in creating motivation to lead
Since so much of the leader’s challenge is better served by good skills, particularly in the area of
communication, those who are better at telling stories, making the logical case for action, inspiring
others and so on have a natural advantage. Extending skills is one way to increase ones potential as
a leader, although may not ultimately ensure that the leadership performance changes. (In general,
the broader the individual’s repertoire of skills, the greater their potential to cope with and
capitalise on situations). Skills must not be seen as a cosmetic overlay, as people who act in a way
that seems to contradict their values are inherently suspect
Surrounding all three of these sits the environment for leadership. The extent of an individual’s
opportunity to lead varies, although most people would recognise that the leader does not wait for
the stars to become aligned, they try to get them into the right position. None the less, history is full
of examples of leaders “whose time had come” and also those whose time had gone. External
challenge is one of the strongest motivators for extending the repertoire; confronting change is
therefore often linked to notions of improving leadership. Despite the rhetoric, job design that
allows for leadership is rare; managers who want to lead may first have to renegotiate their terms of
The point of intersection of all four of these defines the size of the leadership performance space
and/or the limits on the leader’s behavioural repertoire. Although it is the mix that counts, it is easy
to think about what sort of mix is most likely to produce an effective as a leader over time. Under
most circumstances you ideally need
An environment that demands you lead, rather than manage ( or hide in the store cupboard)
A personality that is optimistic, forward looking , open to learning, determined to succeed,
comfortable with ambiguity, matched with high levels of self awareness so you know when
to rein in some less useful attribute
A set of values that you recognise and which provide you with the conviction and motivation
to take the inevitable risks of being the leader
The skills to deliver the leadership performance effectively
So the implication of this for most people attending leadership programmes is actually one of
Am I prepared to submit myself to an environment which will be uncomfortable and where I
will be seriously challenged (and may fail)?
Can I sustain this attitude of positivity when I may be feeling the opposite?
C.S Lewis described courage as not being a separate virtue, but as being “any virtue at the
point of extreme”. Am I prepared to acknowledge publicly what I stand for?
Am I prepared to put in the time it takes to practice and get better at developing my
communication and relationship skills?
So how should the wannabe leader proceed?
To develop yourself as a leader you may have to use the same levers
You will have to construct – or put yourself into - an environment where management will
not be enough to see you through This means that you must accept a certain degree of
discomfort with that environment. Yours will not be a quiet life, some days will be a real
You will need to use insights into your personality to realise how best to lead and maybe find
others that complement you who you can include in your team Accepting your personality as
the instrument on which you must play is the start. This includes what you are less good at –
indeed what you may never be any good at – and making the best of this raw material. If the
environment really requires somebody with attributes that are not your forte you may need
a partner who complements your preferences and comfort zone
You will need to know what you stand for and how far you can and cannot compromise It’s
one of the great truisms of leadership that you don’t start to lead until you realise what is
“yours to do”. That connection between circumstance and motivation is often about values.
Most people do not know what they are put on the planet for because they are not really in
touch with what they are committed to. It is tempting to say that when you make this
connection the main barrier to leadership development is overcome, but in reality some
very principled people do not learn to become good leaders because they are confused
about means ( “must be true to my values” ) and ends (a vision of my values realised in some
way). However if you are not aware of your values it is unlikely you will ever realise your
potential as a leader
You will need to practice using new skills to improve your effectiveness. Patience is critical as
many people have to master skills which do not fit easily with their personality. Problems
with doing things as a leader often link to problems being that sort of a leader – in other
words there is some dissonance between the action needed and either values or personality
or both.
Ideally all four of these factor and insights will be in play at the same time, but this is not often the
case and your chance of developing as a leader decreases. Not all of if is chance of course; a good
coach can help with all four if you know what you lack. The role of the leadership programme is to
kick start each by providing insight and ideas; but the real work of development can only happen
back on the job.
Do organisations really want these free spirits being set loose in their midst?
If the course is any good – and most of them are - participants leave leadership programmes with
great ideas of inspiring or listening and asserting themselves. Follow up coaching reveals one further
inhibitor / enabler to their success. Whilst the organisation recognises it needs people who will lead,
taking charge and letting go (and making the correct judgement about when to do each),
organisations are essentially conformist. Like any other group, they operate to a set of norms.
Leaders often need to challenge something about the status quo. Although organisations may
understand the value of this intellectually, in practice they also collude with keeping things as they
were – that is on an even keel.
The reasons are easy to see; too many chiefs and not enough braves is a recipe for conflict, and
organisations tend to abhor conflict much as nature was said to abhor a vacuum. So having got
people ready for the struggle of leadership the organisation probably poses the biggest hurdle to
their success. Some organisations are as aware as their aspirant leaders. They recognise their
collusion with mediocrity, the past and habitual ways of seeing and doing. They genuinely welcome a
degree of maverick leadership, particularly if they are in “renewal mode” themselves. There are
some interesting differences between the styles of leadership that are appreciated at different
stages in an organisations development, as the chart below indicates
Which is why great leaders have to be pragmatic. The serenity prayer of Reinhold Niehbuhr –
adopted by AA and printed on thousands of little cards - perhaps reminds us of the one aspect of
leadership which Business Schools tend not to cover; the spiritual. Yet its message about accepting
the things you cannot change, courageously tackling those you can (and wisely recognising the
difference) may resonate with you if you are considering where best to develop your leadership