Tuesday, 20 September 2022


 I’ve always been an agnostic about the importance of leadership. Too often an autocratic leader like Fred Goodwin or Bob Diamond (respectively one-time CEOs of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays) led their business close to destruction or ignominy. 

Fred the Shred wasn't all that bad, says RBS boss | Scotland | The Times

People have fallen in love with the idea of the “Leader” – the Mao, the Stalin. People who get things done. That was Boris Johnson’s claim – “Get Brexit done" except it’s getting undone messily unless the Irish Protocol is sorted out.

Actually I’m more than agnostic. I’m enraged by power seekers who muck up things steeped in their own self-worth. Putin does that, Xi Jinping does that, Trump does that. Yet the mythology continues. Last week buried under beautifully written royal tributes in the Times what they call “Raconteur” had a section on “The Future CEO”. 

Future CEO 2019 - Raconteur

It did not make riveting reading. Most of all I found it rather mechanistic MBA stuff when really what the leadership role is, as Jack Welch CEO  of GE said (the most sensible thing he ever said in fact):

“When you were made a leader you weren't given a crown, you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others.”

If as a leader you were to do nothing else that’d be enough. It’s what we want from any manager of a sporting team. When they stop doing that they stop being a meaningful leader.

Emma Duncan recently wrote an interesting piece about the quiet leader. She reflected that Queen Elizabeth rarely put a foot wrong because she was very cautious about where she put her feet.

Diamond Jubilee: Queen takes Windsor walkabout - BBC News

She was often quite dull. “Have you come far?” became a joke but she was always there smiling and being available. In private she was witty, I believe, and a mischievous mimic. She did her job quietly but her presence now, suddenly removed, has led millions to understand what she meant to us. Emma then compared her style to that of Keir Starmer who whilst a calm, sometimes dull, performer in the House of Commons is good company in private and, I’m told by those who’ve met him, “is very impressive.” Maybe bringing the best out of a talented Shadow Front Bench is what we need from him. More Atlee; less Churchill.

Keir Starmer: Boris Johnson made promises about reopening schools and broke  them - Keir Starmer - Mirror Online

Yet I keep on hearing people talking about the need for charisma, presumably to wow the floating voters or, in business, the markets. I also hear people say the down to earth Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, is more impressive than the supposedly charismatic Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Equally after that wayward genius, Steve Jobs, we now have Tim Cook as CEO of Apple leading the biggest company in the world which is valued at around $2.4 trillion. The most low key leader you’ve ever seen… indeed he’s virtually invisible.

Apple boss Tim Cook faces backlash to £73m pay package - BBC News

If what you want is noise, excitement but not a clue how to do anything you choose Bolsonaro or Berlusconi (note – all the Bad Boys start with “B” – apart from Biden who is coping quietly.) They make great copy so the media loves them. They ride motorbikes, scantily clad girls or their luck.

But in the world today our leaders of business, governments or global institutions have a responsibility to others not just themselves. If nothing else the Queen has taught us keeping a low profile, being available for photoshoots (lovely clothes, lovely smile) but avoiding giving them a story is a profound legacy.

“When you were made a leader you weren't given a crown, you were given the responsibility to bring out the best in others.”

Yes. That’s it.

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