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You're only a leader if people choose to follow you – exclusive interview with Veronica Hope-Hailey

Posted on by from University of Bath

Leaders are still grappling with the aftermath of the financial crisis, not just in economic terms but in attitudinal terms, argues Professor Veronica Hope Hailey. What does the next generation of leaders look like?

There are 3 major concerns for CEOs right now:

LEGITIMACY: before the economic crisis, people were preoccupied with short-term shareholder value and failed to pay attention to sustainability. Some of the cynicism around poor behaviour in business remains.

ACCOUNTABILITY: particularly in the private sector, how can we make CEOs and organisations accountable for their actions?

PLURALISM: organisations comprise a variety of views, needs and voices so businesses are becoming a more ‘negotiated order’ – what your organisation is about cannot be dictated by your CEO’s vision. Organisations that do well, such as Unilever and John Lewis, recognise this and work with groups to co-create a shared vision.

The new generation of leaders must create a sense of shared purpose.

People don’t get out of bed to create shareholder value. New leaders need a sense of what the
organisation’s higher purpose is that they can communicate to others.

Successful organisations choose leaders who have a sense of their legacy.

It’s your job to nurture the next generation. How your values fit that historical legacy, and being able to articulate what you’re going to bring, is crucial. It’s about seeing your role as part
of a greater whole. You have a part to play but you have to think about how you are creating a
sustainable future for the next generation.

Future leaders need benevolence, integrity, ability and competence.

The previous generation didn’t always feel it was necessary to demonstrate their concern or compassion for others. This is absolutely essential now – it comes through in your behaviours, words and attitudes in the community and in the workforce – and you cannot outsource this to corporate communications.

Engage with people around you.

Leaders need to stop looking at iPads, phones and laptops and engage with people to be seen as legitimate.

Collaborate and create group identity.

Relational leadership is the difference between red cape ‘superman’ leadership and understanding that actually, your organisation’s problems will be solved through working with others. By creating group identity you can achieve your aims more successfully. Kirit Patel, CEO of Day Lewis Pharmacy, summed this up perfectly when he said: “No one carries a bigger stick than me, and I don’t carry a stick."

Greater emphasis must be placed on trustworthy leaders.

Trustworthy leaders show humility and modesty, understand their role to leave a legacy, and think about tomorrow. Seek feedback on your legitimacy as a leader and listen to what this tells you about your style. Leadership is not a role, it’s a relationship. You’re only a leader if people choose to follow you.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

University of Bath

University of Bath

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