So Many Paths

Much has been written, and much more will continue to be written, on the subject of leadership.

There are many differing schools of thought regarding what makes a truly a great leader and new theories constantly emerge. The leader as ‘hero’ is beguiling.  A strong leader with the ability to create a commitment to achieving a visionary future is an attribute that is often seen as differentiating leaders from mere managers.  At their best visionaries rely heavily on their own values, and they invest in people, giving them a sense of purpose and direction but allowing them to decide on the details.  Hierarchy and structure mean little as they make decisions and shape their vision based on their values, beliefs, and sense of identity. They can be extremely satisfying to work with. However there is a major problem with most visionary ‘Hero’ leaders: they tend to ignore the short-term stability and day-to-day functioning of the organisation.  They may also carry too much personal responsibility making them stressed – leading to ineffective decision making.

This makes visionary leaders exciting but risky and in truth most organisations tend to turn to managerial leaders as a more preferable alternative.

Managers need order and stability and want control of all the details. They have little or no personal attachment towards the goals and they may have limited empathy with employees. They control through rewards, punishment, and possibly coercion. Leader/managers are focused on the cost-benefit of actions and will therefore be mostly linked to the short-term financial health of the organization, as reflected in its day-to-day share price. Short-term gains are the result of a least-cost approach, which is likely to stifle investment and might not be good for long-term viability.

And this brings me to my real concern.

I see many businesses hiring a visionary leader, setting the direction and empowering the teams only to lose their nerve after a year or two and put a strong managerial type in place to ensure delivery.  The team, being used to having an open culture and being free to run their own departments, are challenging for the manager/leader to handle .  So those that look like they may not toe the line are rapidly removed and  a cosy ‘yes sir’ culture develops.  As the business runs out of steam the board put in a new visionary leader to create some energy and ideas – she finds the executive team  are too ‘passive’ and replaces them with ‘self starters’ although probably with a good deal more empathy and dignity than a managerial leader would muster.

And so the cycle repeats.

This isn’t great for business and it’s truly terrible for the lives and careers of those who are victims of the changing styles.

Given that none of the above seems ideal, a blend of the two leadership types might prove better.  Not a middle ground but a true combination of both. And there are some examples of great visionary leaders who surround themselves with great managers.  Richard Branson has famously had a succession of strong managers sitting alongside him to great effect.  An individual leader who can combine both approaches would be much more than the sum of the parts.  An alternative approach that is currently gaining ground is that of Stewardship, combining not only the visionary and managerial styles but also adding sustainability to the mix.

It isn’t unthinkable but it is unlikely that many such leaders will naturally emerge without careful nurturing.

Stewardship leadership requires a truly holistic view of the business, it’s stakeholders and the environment it operates in.  Steward leaders are likely to be very self aware, resilient, flexible and liberal.  These are not skills that can simply be taught in a classroom – experiential learning is crucial.  Steward leadership takes real courage and authenticity to move away from the accepted norms of Hero or Manager.

Given that developing the next generation of leaders is the role of the CEO and the CEO is likely to conform to one of the traditional types this poses a real issue.

The best HR Executives are starting to face up to this problem,  others will keep repeating the cycle.

There are so many paths up the mountain
Nobody knows all the ways
There are so many paths up the mountain
And the view from the top is still the same

Little River Band – So Many Paths


Get on with your short life

There’s a huge amount being written at the moment about positivity.  And there seems to be a rising backlash against this.

The critique goes that it may well be possible to cultivate an attitude of acceptance.  It is indeed what it is.  Acceptance may take away the negative emotions but it does not change the situation for the better.

Certainly we can choose our mood and we can choose to be happy.  We can picture a future in which we are successful and feel very positive about ourselves.  Happily sitting and positively hoping for something to turn up may feel good but it is not going to create success.

Surely a dose of reality, a little suffering, acts as the motivation to take the necessary and possibly unpleasant steps to actually change things.

It is not possible to think yourself successful and people should ‘get real’.

I agree with the logic but not the conclusion.  A happy fool watching daytime TV dreaming of ‘making it big’ is not my idea of positivity.

My view of positivity says that accepting that ‘it is what it is’ takes away unnecessary suffering.  The issue still exists but we can stop the futility of worrying about it.  Thus in a calmer state we can seek to address the issue and if it is something we cannot change, we can move on.

My view of positivity says that if you accept that you are the cause of everything that happens to you, you become much calmer, more likely to make changes and are more agreeable to be with. If you choose your mood and choose happiness you are much more likely to engage positively with others.

If you have a positive goal you are much more likely to take action.  By putting images of future success in our timeline we are asking our unconscious mind to find ways to achieve the goal.

The key certainly is taking action. And I prefer to get on with my short life with a smile on my face rather than a grimace of pain.

You keep saying that one day things could
Be fabulous,
If only you had the right shoes, new
Clothes, the dream team doing your hair.
Why do you have to waste time on your
Waistline when you could be having
Dinner with me?
Will you really be the winner
If you’re thinner?
How can I make you see?

Get on with your short life,
Get on with this sweet precious time,
You know you’re only dreaming
So why don’t you wake up and get on
With your short life

You keep praying that some day things
Will be different
If you only had the right lips, killer hips,
A sun kissed permanent tan
But does it really matter if you’re fatter
Than everybody else on the screen
It’s more important to be truthful than just
Youthful on the cover of some magazine

Get on with your short life,
Get on with this sweet precious time,
You know you’re only dreaming
So why don’t you wake up and get on with
Your short life 

Brian Kennedy

All The Small Things

This morning I took the dog for our usual circuit.  He’s just been prescribed some new anti-inflammatory drugs for his arthritis and I was watching him closely to see if he was walking any easier.  He was very excitable and the reason soon became clear.  The remnants of someone’s takeaway were strewn around.  A few drinks cans, milkshake cartons, polystyrene boxes, chip papers and, for the dog, discarded chips and kebabs.


I’d heard some cars racing around late last night and it looks like someone had used the quiet lane as a late night picnic spot, thrown the rubbish out of the car and then raced around the field.  All depressingly familiar.  Looking more closely it was clear that this was not a one off.  The area was covered in plastic bottles, cans, paper and plastic.  I particularly appreciated the way a number of drivers had emptied their ashtrays on the road.

Walking back towards home I met someone who also spotted the rubbish.  Their considered wisdom was that someone ought to do something about it.  It made them angry. The parents should bring their kids up better, they should be ashamed.  The authorities ought to stop it and clean it up.  Someone should report it.

All sentiments I could easily agree with.

I finished the walk, put the dog in the house (his rickety legs wouldn’t cope with a further walk), grabbed a pair of gardening gloves and a black sack, walked back to the spot and started collecting litter.  At first I felt vaguely embarrassed.  This soon passed.  It felt good. Certainly better than raging, anger is a useless emotion.  After 10 minutes I had filled my sack and made a big improvement both to the area and my mood.

The small things do make a difference.  And small acts of compassion make us stronger.

All the small things
True care, truth brings
I’ll take one lift
Your ride best trip


The Garden

In the northern hemisphere yesterday was officially the first day of spring.  In my part of the world to was also a bright and sunny day, if a little cold.  I took a stroll around my garden and started a few odd jobs.  A little leaf collecting, dead heading, cutting back.

Daffodils Daffodil Narcissus

I ought to tackle some jobs now, despite it being a bit cold.  Those little weeds lift out easily now and if left will spread and get deep rooted so even if they are removed they might regrow.  It is easier to get to things and see what help they might need before everything bursts into leaf. A little work now will save a lot of effort later and it’s always easier to look after something that is in good shape.  All those jobs that I had no time for in summer and then were too big in autumn would be much easier if tackled now.

I pottered in the sunshine and declared I needed a plan rather than taking a random approach.  And a second opinion would be useful – is that bamboo a useful screen? Or is it really too tall and heavy, stopping natural light? It’s amazing how some things that you have carefully cultivated become problems as they overshadow some of the smaller more delicate plants. You get used to them, hardly noticing their growth if you see them daily.  A fresh pair of eyes or at least someone to challenge you can help you see things in a new light.

My Grandad used to be a bit of a gardner and he always said that gardening taught you a lot about life.  I never really understood him.  As usual he was right.

Seems like a great time to work on more than just the garden.

The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect 
So hard to earn, so easily burned 
The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect 
So hard to earn, so easily burned 
In the fullness of time 
A garden to nurture and protect

Rush – The Garden