‘Tis the season of….

So where's the substance? Image courtesy: boralginmages.

So where’s the substance?
Image courtesy: boralginmages.

Yes, the season of party political conferences is upon us; and indeed, nearly over. Ignoring the politics, it’s a good opportunity to observe ‘leadership in action’. Each conference provides a platform for demonstrations of leadership on a wide front culminating with a much-anticipated speech from the party leaders. Thus we are able to see a parade[1] of leaders displaying their leadership identities.

Different people hold different interpretations of these identities. The following have all been used in recent times:

  • David Cameron: Trustworthy – I can be trusted to do the right thing
  • Ed Miliband: Thinker – I will think deeply and intelligently about things
  • Nick Clegg: Headmaster – I’ll bring a bit of discipline and a sense of proportion
  • Nigel Farage: Comedian – I’m sharp but make serious issues seem not too heavy

Without such identities, leaders tend to lose substance and impact in the same way that administrators or managers without elements of leadership become faceless bureaucrats or rigid autocrats. But the suggested characterisations above illustrate just how different those identities can be.

However, unless you are apolitical or on the political fringes, you will probably see one of these in a more benign light than the others. This is likely to reflect your politics, be irrespective of their ‘leadership identity’, and be in spite of their faults.

For people leading on a smaller scale, this raises questions. The obvious one is:

What is your unique leadership identity that enables you to have substance and impact?

Another relates to our propensity to favour those that reflect our leanings such as skills we hold dear, attitudes towards work, personality types, interests we have in common, and so on. And the smaller the enterprise, the more likely it is that we appoint in our own image. Who really wants to bring discord and challenge into their organisation? But it is only through such challenge that our thinking will be tested and improved. This gives rise to the second question:

How often do you appoint based on people’s differences rather than their similarities?

 Both are tough questions, but with good answers can have significant benefits.

[1] I’m not sure what the best collective noun for leaders is – all suggestions welcome.


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