The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, so the Duke of Wellington is reported to have said on revisiting his old school. A statement that reflected a belief, still held,  that Eton makes leaders of those born into the upper class. With my background in senior management I share the belief that leadership skills can be developed but I think all managers can and should acquire leadership skills. It’s also the case that the type of leadership appropriate for a post pandemic, modern organisation is very different to the type Wellington had in mind. 

Today leadership development is about enhancing a manager or aspiring manager’s “emotional intelligence” that is increasing their insight into how their behaviour effects those they manage. So for instance does the way they run meetings open up debate or close it down? Do direct reports feel able to express legitimate concerns about proposed actions or do they feel any criticism is likely to be viewed as personal disloyalty? Is the manager seen as supportive or demanding? Is the manager clear in their expectations or are team members confused by changing and conflicting priorities? The point being how a manager sees themselves may not be how they are experienced by those they manage. Improved insight means the manager, with coaching,  can adapt their behaviour to be more inline with what they intended and thus more effective. 

The simplest technique  for developing this insight is 360 degree feedback where a range of people who work with the manager complete a questionnaire about their experience. This has its limitations but is a starting point for a discussion about how the individuals behaviour effects those they manage. It can result in some simple but useful suggestions like, talk less and listen more. By far the most effective technic is executive coaching where the manager is observed in a number of leadership activities by the coach and then provided with detailed feedback and suggestions for how they could do things differently. This can then be built on by access to a mentor, a more experienced and independent individual who can pass on their wisdom. 

The most difficult parts of leadership are knowing how hard to push individuals and ideas, knowing when to stick to the plan despite its setbacks,  when to recognise a u turn is the best course and how to ensure you know about problems before they become major issues. Increased insight in to how your behaviour effects others allows you to change your behaviour such that you are less likely to be out of touch, more likely to be given uncensored information, more likely to get ideas and solutions from the wider group and so more likely to make better decisions and get the best out of your team. 

You will also gain a reputation as a leader who is receptive to new ideas, able to deal with uncomfortable feedback, not afraid to change your mind, some one who listens more than they talk. Maybe not the Duke of Wellington’s idea of a good leader but some one a modern organisation would view as a good person to work for and with.


Blair Mcpherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 

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