Monday, 23 January 2017

Confronting a Crisis of Leadership

Like the good leaders we (think) we are, we’re hoping that whatever we write will be a timeless masterpiece. So I’ve always chosen to ignore passing fads and fancies, preferring to ignore, so-called news, that noisy rumble of history being made. These short (hopefully) to-the-point columns are about insights into the leader’s psyche (and those who have the burden of “serving” them), if that’s an allowable word in these days of hyper-political correctness (HPC to you).

What, I would like to think, is that many years from now you’ll pick up these columns on some leadership-linked search engine and it will still seem fresh, vital and relevant to the times in which we live. In a world where b-school professors can make a nice living writing and lecturing about the dubious leadership quirks of 12th century Mongolian warlords, stamping a date on a thought piece about the habits of 21st century CEOs might not be that bad after all.

So, after much soul searching – while sampling a glass or two of excellent Bordeaux - , I’ve decided to throw caution to the winds and mention the “T” word. To be honest, I swore I’d never do it, but just watching our leaders get it so wrong, so often and with such seemingly self-satisfied smugness, I felt I had no choice, but to take up the keyboard and get it out of my system.

In the months that have passed since Mr T (why do I still think of that big guy from the awful TV series the A-Team (*) when I write that ?), all I can say is that, ladies and gentlemen I am shocked.

I am shocked that :
- The pundits didn’t know, but now spend hours talking drivel of what went wrong
- The media didn’t know, never did, never will.
- The politicians didn’t know (but like to pretend they do). 
- The pollsters got it wrong again, and again, and again
- The big bucks-earning,heavy-hitter CEOs were as surprised as you were. Do you know ANYONE who has predicted anything correctly lately?

Ok, ok, it’s easy to mock and make fun, but this is serious guys. All my experience over many years says that the very first test of leadership is that you have a plan. And the second test is you have plan B (because every idiot knows plan A never, ever works – right?).
When plan B doesn’t work you show your true  leadership by having a plan C, at least  to the point that you exude enough confidence so people feel safer, more in control, having some direction in their lives (countless studies show what 99% of all employees want is to feel safe, and if they make money too that’s a bonus).

People didn’t vote to leave Europe; and they didn’t vote for Mr T. they voted because there is no leadership. They are rootless and rudderless.
This is the worst state of leaderless mania I have ever witnessed. There’s just no one to look up to. And, ultimately if you don’t have faith you create a vacuum in which no decisions get made. Currently our leaders have shown they never had a plan A to begin with, forgot what plan B was supposed to achieve  and their in-tray is on fire.

I’ve written extensively that people need direction and they need to believe that someone knows where the boat (be it an organisation or a nation) is going and how we are all going to get there. In 2016 we spent about $10billion on leadership training. For what ? CEOs still pull down huge millions, for leading our organisations on a rocky road to nowhere; Politicians get lauded and rewarded with honours, for making simple, stupid errors. Trouble is we have all forgotten what leadership is about.  Let me make it ever so simple. Leadership is about picking a direction, and getting a bunch of (hopefully) like-minded individuals to follow you and reap the rewards, possibly spreading a little inspirational stardust along the way. Maybe Mr T has that (or maybe we’d just better wish really, really hard that he has). 

Sorry to say folks, but leadership ain’t what it used to be and that’s the simple truth. My question to you is, are we going to do anything about it? Sadly there’s not much sign that our leaders are wonderfully equipped to put the esprit de corps back into the corpse, we’ve left lonely, lifeless and abandoned by the corporate highway as a sad legacy of our own failings. Aren’t we better than that ? Come on let’s go and seek out some inspirational leaders. I’ll be back with a route map soon. Promise.

(*) For those that need to know The A Team was a cult shoot’em up tv show  of the 1980s

This column on leadership and organizational development is written exclusively for the IEDP by Rudi Plettinx, Managing Director of Management Centre Europe, the Brussels-based development organization. Have a comment or a question? Engage directly with Rudi Plettinx here.


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