We live in an age of diminished leadership. The stagnation of our politics around Brexit, criminal behaviour within trusted institutions, and the greed of gargantuan banks paint a grotesque background to any leader’s portrait. While the global outpouring of grief after the death of Nelson Mandela was a tribute to a truly great world leader, didn’t its excesses betray our fear that he may have been the last one?
In this context, what is there to say about the people who run organisations that we don’t already know or suspect? If the stereotype of today’s leaders is right, then why on earth should we be interested in hugely overpaid, mainly white, usually overweight bullies who make their living by either telling people what to do or firing them? Perhaps there are people who are like this; it is an image that is easy to acknowledge against the generally-accepted dearth of leadership.
Instead, there is a new breed of leader working very hard to adapt to new conditions in the twenty-first century. Good leadership is alive and flourishing. The important difference from the past is, today’s successful leaders are more likely to be leading from the side, not the front. They aspire to be leader-coaches bringing the best out of their teams. Furthermore, they are highly self-aware and self-critical – they see themselves very clearly and communicate accordingly.
We all know who these Leaders from the Side are: Bill and Melinda Gates. Jürgen Klopp. Richard Branson.
And we know who they are not: Theresa May. Jose Mourinho. Jeremy Corbyn.
So, let’s celebrate the end of the top-down dictator, and the rise of the sideways-on leader!