The immediacy of technology has led to a distorted sense of urgency for many and has led to a loss of focus, productivity and lack of leadership. To make matters worse management and leadership training, once compulsory, is now a rarity. Talented staff are entering their thirties as highly paid specialists, without exposure to management responsibilities.
Where does this leave a talented friend of mine, who is 40, working in London in the finance sector? He has just received leadership training and has not, to date, had any staff reporting to him. He is not so disadvantaged as one might think.
My interest in leadership stemmed from a chance encounter with the book Shackleton Way by Margot Morell and Stephanie Capparell and an unplanned stopover in Kuala Lumpur. In the wet monsoon season, I was incarcerated in my hotel room creating a model that described Shackleton’s successful leadership. Subsequently, I then studied other leaders of the past and noted that their success or failure was predicted by the model.
This model was then amended as a result of a leadership think tank. It emerged that one needs to separate those leadership traits that need to be in your DNA from those skills that can be learnt. We came up with eight traits that need to be in your DNA and 15 skills that can be learnt. Of the eight traits, four are hard-wired at birth.
The eight traits are:
- Integrity and honesty (Hard-wired)
- “Love thy neighbour as thyself” (Hard-wired)
- Self-awareness and self-regulation (Behavioural change programme can radically improve performance)
- Abundance of positive energy (Hard-wired)
- Decision making and risk-taking (Behavioural change programme can radically improve performance)
- Seeing future opportunities (Behavioural change programme can radically improve performance)
- Ability to excel in a crisis (Hard-wired)
- Learning agility (Exposure to best practice can improve performance)
It is my belief that many leaders fail when managing large enterprises because some of the eight traits that needed to be in their DNA were absent. They may have been successful in managing smaller teams because their flaws were not fully exposed. Some very famous leaders, such as Sir Winston Churchill, were flawed because some of these traits were absent or compromised. In Churchill’s case, he was flawed in ‘love they neighbour as thyself’ and in self-awareness, whilst the other six traits were clearly in his DNA.
The view of hard-wired traits is consistent with the early days of the theories into evolution. It was argued by the evolutionist, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, in 1809, that skills, knowledge and traits are passed down generation by generation through the DNA that we share (nature). We are then influenced in our formative years by our family, peers and teachers (nurture) arriving at a place where our collection of traits make us leadership material or not.
To excel as a leader of a large team or organisation you need these eight traits in place. In Jack Welch’s terminology, these traits are “tickets to the game” a given, a must-have. Leaders need to make sure you do not compromise these traits for your leadership will suffer.
For leaders of small teams missing one or two of these eight traits is not critical and they can still be a successful team leader. The key is to limit the extent of the team they need to manage.
There is nothing new in leadership just new ways of interpreting it. The 100 years centenary of armistice day is a reminder of the appalling leadership on both sides of World War One. When you contrast the leadership of Field Marshal Montgomery, in the second World War, you realise that many more lives would have been saved with more Leaders who “loved their troops as much as they loved themselves.” It is interesting to note that Montgomery had endless arguments with Churchill over the timing of offensives. Montgomery would only go into battle when the odds of low casualties were at their greatest. Churchill had a mindset of victory, no matter the cost.