Within HR, developing future leaders is seen as one of the five main issues facing the profession and hence, organisations. It is easier said than done. Ask others to explain what they see as good leadership and, indeed, what is leadership, and you will get a wide range of responses. Leadership is hard to define.
So, let me ask; What does a leader do in order to lead?
I have asked this question many times, to many groups of people, over many years. In formal groups I have had the respondents write down their answer to that simple question. Without fail, what is produced is essentially a list of qualities. Typical of the responses are these qualities.
A good communicator
A great listener
Sense of humour
All the qualities listed above are certainly desired qualities to be found in a leader. There are many hundreds of words to be found in any dictionary that describe what could be called the desired qualities of a leader.
The trouble with the qualities approach is that one can be a good leader without possessing some, or indeed, many of these qualities. Ned Kelly was a leader who displayed many of the sample qualities but was devoid of many others. Another leader lacking many desirable qualities was Charles Manson, an American criminal and cult leader. In mid-1967, he formed what became known as the “Manson Family”, a quasi-commune based in California. His followers committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969.
Both Kelly and Manson were what can be called “highly undesirable characters” but they were proven leaders none-the-less.
We all know very fine people who posses many, if not all, of the desirable character qualities but who are not successful leaders. Similarly, we know people who are good managers with very fine characters but who are ineffective leaders.
What is known as the Qualities Approach to leadership does not successfully answer the question of What does a leader do in order to lead?
More on Leadership in the next edition of Previews.