The Apprentice and the leadership gap

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Why is it that we are happy to promote the misguided notion that modern leadership should focus on the aggressive pursuit of self-interest by egomaniacs? “I truly am the reflection of perfection” offers Ricky Martin (nope, not that one!), one of the cattle contestants on this year’s ‘Apprentice‘ show.  Whilst I recognise that the BBC edit the programme in such a fashion to make Lord Sugar and the participants appear aggressive, off hand I can’t think of any interviews I have seen or read where he or they have diluted this persona…granted I haven’t devoted a vast amount of time searching for such things.  Putting the TV ratings (down on last year, but still largely healthy) to one side, it begs the question…is this really what we wish to advertise to the world as the cream of British talent and the leaders of the future?

It shouldn’t be underestimated the impact such attitudes to leadership have on others.  CIPD research has recently highlighted a worrying trend in managers overestimating their own abilities with eight out of the ten managers believing their employees are either satisfied or very satisfied with them as a manager; however, just 25% of employees report this to be the case.

Pantomime management, crass, greedy and rude, is not representative of the future talent of Britain.  Banging fists on tables, berating and bullying colleagues may have a short term impact, but such toxic traits and transactional style will have a hugely damaging effect in the long run.  This leadership belongs in a different era, the ‘Gordon Gekko‘ approach has no place in the leadership of a modern business and will by no means create sustainable improvements in performance/productivity.  I know, I have experienced these leadershits first hand.

Similarly, this isn’t what we witness in the ‘real world’.

The CIPD stats highlight that leadership capabilities, not managerial, need to be addressed.  Management is task driven and individuals that have undertaken a role for a period of time should be proficient in completing those tasks.  Leadership is about establishing a direction and aligning people to this vision of the future, inspiring and motivating them to work towards attaining this vision.

Such programmes lead us to believe that humility is a sign of weakness.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Leaders do not have all the answers, they make mistakes and have flaws like all people, but the humble leader can recognise this.  The humble leader has the ability to stay clear of self-aggrandising in favour of reflecting on and praising the efforts of those around them.  Jim Collins articulated these people as ‘Level 5 leaders’, with their extra dimension being a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.

True leadership is about winning the hearts and minds of those you lead, coaching them to develop by building collegiate relationships that reward both parties.  Understanding, controlling and managing your own emotions and those of the people who report into you is the very basis of Emotional Intelligence (EQ).  Those leaders who have a high level of EQ are able to tap into that ‘extra 10%’ discretionary effort from their reports…leading to increased performance and higher productivity.

There is a vast array of talent in the UK, but it needs to be harnessed, guided and allowed to flourish to its full potential.  Investing the appropriate time, energy and values into our future talent will drive us out of recession and if done properly, should equip them with the skills, behaviours and attributes to keep us clear in the future.  Only then will we be displaying leadership we should be proud to show the world.

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