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  • Writer's pictureMarkus Starmer

Leadership Has No Sell-By Date.

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by a potential client for a contract to design and deliver a global development initiative for their top leadership team. It's pretty much my raison d'être. I’ve been doing it for over 25 years now, with unusual success, and my credentials are second to none.

In the three-on-one interview, the clients seemed excited by my experience and enthused by what we discussed. Oddly, nobody had explained the simple truth that to be a real leader, others have to want to follow you. Neither had anyone presented them with a thoroughly researched fait accompli version of what causes people to follow, or told them what they should be developing in their most senior people. Everyone else they had interviewed had basically asked them what they wanted a program to include?

The interview went well. They told me that although they had seen many other providers, nobody had “come close to what you’re telling us”. At the end of a nearly two-hour meeting, we shook hands and they told me how much they looked forward to working with me – and attending the training event.

I never take things for-granted, but it seemed I had reason to be confident that the work would be coming my way. So I was somewhat surprised when all three of my hosts conference called me a few days later to explain how "gutted" they were that they would not be working with me. They felt bad and wanted to explain precisely why:

Apparently, they had given their CEO the “unreserved” recommendation that I be the provider for their development initiative. But after outlining my background, experience and approach, their boss had shaken his head and declared “No. Isn’t there somebody younger, with fresh ideas? We want someone who can help us develop a new model for what leadership means.” The meeting then came to an abrupt close.

My would-have-been sponsors expressed their deep embarrassment and apologized profusely. I was disappointed, but not too surprised.

This business is by no means alone in its desire to develop an internal, business specific ‘new’ version of what leadership is.

I have seen several in recent years. They are generally committee created compromises, that deliver a self-serving and unhelpful hotchpotch of management skills, technical abilities and internal values.

What are defined as guiding principles for leadership performance are instead misinterpretations of the requirement, based solely upon what 'the business' deems to be important for leadership.

This is not the same as clarifying what people will respond to.

I have yet to see such a definition that translates into aspects of personal performance that will promote followership.

The corporate world does not seem to ‘get’ some fundamental facts about the nature of leadership and its development.

  • Leadership implies followership.

  • You get a lot more out of teams when they’re following someone because they want to, rather than because they have to.

  • Exhibition of leadership skills makes the workplace a happier and more productive place; and it makes the lives of those who are able to wield them, a lot easier.

  • Leadership skills are not the same as management skills.

  • There are fixed actions that an individual may take, and personal attributes they may display, that add value, universally.

  • They do not age, cease to have relevance, or go out of date

  • Unlike so much that goes on in the world of management practice, leadership is not a fad or a trend.

  • What we see in, or require from one another that causes us to choose to want to follow them, does not evolve or change. It is a constant.

  • Once discovered, these actions and attributes are easily understood and may be learned.

  • With application and follow through, anyone has the potential to become a leader.

I am moderately aggrieved that my experience and evidence of (great) success at developing leaders was summarily discounted. Had he listened, the CEO would have discovered, as his team did, that my ideas are fresh in a business world that constantly trips itself up in this key area, and accepts sub-standard learning interventions.

However, I understand the need to constantly look for what appears to be new and improved. But I caution that in the drive to push for the novel and different, businesses are at risk of ignoring fundamentals and missing important opportunities to upskill their people in an area where a real difference can be made. Real leadership is all too often misunderstood, but once properly defined, it has no sell-by date.

Perhaps I do!

NB. My leadership model was researched and developed with input from the nationals of 38 countries on 4 continents. Over the past 25 years, it has been presented to the nationals of 58 countries, and has never once been disputed or even challenged.

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