Background Reading



Inner Qualities of Leadership
  Extracts from a talk given to the City Women's Network

We might or might not want to be CEO of a FTSE 100 company, but whatever the job title, as leaders we will surely want to be known, to have a reputation, for certain characteristics, certain qualities.

What defines us as a leader are not only the choices we make but how we are as people. Take Marjorie Scardino who, as she took up her role at Pearson, faced a potential embezzlement scandal. Contrary to advice given, she held a press conference to make known all the facts and how she intended to deal with the matter. These actions identified her as someone prepared to be honest, despite a difficult and potentially damaging situation.

Today, if we were to draw up a shopping list of leadership qualities we'd be likely to include qualities to do with relational skills. Leadership is very much about creating a bridge between the people and the organisation. But relational skills can't be bought off the shelf - they come from within the person, and are grounded in self-understanding first.

Take the quality of courage. It shares the same linguistic root as the French for heart, "coeur". Courage is doing something despite your head telling you not to - courage is a quality that comes from the heart. Leadership today favours a balancing of head and heart, stepping away from ego, serving others.

"Once we start delving into being rather than doing, we are confronted by intangible and perhaps unfashionable concepts of duty, service, example, motivation and so on. These lie at the heart of effective leadership." Lieutenant-General Sir John Deverell OBE

There is also a place for humility in leadership. Adversity is a good teacher of humility - when things fail, go wrong, or fall away. Then we're brought face to face with our vulnerability. People might prefer to side step this feeling through blaming others or finding suitable distractions - but facing one's vulnerability is a great strengthener. It reminds us of our humanity and the humanity of others.

Bottom line thinking

Bottom line business imperatives remain to a great extent in a nineteenth century model of power, conquering native people and raw materials. As James Hillman puts it in his book "Kinds of Power" the hero [read Leader] is victor, peak performer, driving forwards and in command. Hillman outlines the commonly accepted definition of economic power as Efficiency and Growth. However the problem is that, taken to extremes, these definitions pander to a love of money and contribute to short term thinking and blinkered vision. They are not to do with balancing head and heart.

Hillman gives the example of a man in charge of operations who describes with great pride the efficient and streamlined process under his control. Imagine this - raw materials arriving at the depot, being sorted and materials of value being extracted. Then within just two hours the dross is being disposed off. But consider that this man's work was being carried out at Treblinka during the Second World War and 5,000 human beings a morning were being efficiently processed to death. Anyone justifying their decisions by referring solely to the bottom line has something to learn from Treblinka.

Hillman underlines that Efficiency and Growth is just one model. He is hopeful for the paradigm shift towards a model of Service and Maintenance. The difference is that service is connected in the minds of some with notions of servitude - not so attractive to those who favour status and gain! Both service and maintenance involve contribution, personal attention and care - they are relational and work to upgrade both energy and matter rather than discarding or destroying. They invest in the social capital of an organisation.

Power With

"Some say knowledge is power, but that is not true. Character is power." Sai Baba

The relational aspects of leadership become increasingly important as hierarchies topple and ex-clusive tactics lead only to greater isolation. The ability to develop networks, to trust and value people, on the other hand, engenders an environment for creativity, community and exchange. We are seeing that leadership rests on having Power With, rather than Power Over. Power With involves:


  • responsibility
  • personal ethics
  • being at ease with paradox
  • being direct
  • insight
  • humour
  • vulnerability
  • receptivity

IQ, EQ and SQ

Leadership and power is not just about IQ either. With the growing emphasis on social capital, self awareness, and appropriate and inclusive behaviour, the concept of EQ - emotional intelligence - has found its place. But IQ and EQ are not the whole picture.

A few years before Daniel Goleman became known for his work on Emotional Intelligence he wrote a book called "Meditative Mind" which brought Eastern Psychology and spirituality into a Western context. For him there is something deeper than EQ, that gives us a connection to Self and also something beyond Self. This could be called SQ - spiritual intelligence. SQ is about being open, without defences, seeing the much broader picture. It is with SQ that we confront life's deepest struggles and realise our humanity.

All these three forms of intelligence can function separately - but when IQ, EQ and SQ pull together there is true leadership.

Leaders with attitude

Our attitudes and assumptions colour the way we see the world, but where do they come from? They begin in early life and are built on core beliefs that we hold about ourselves in relation to the world around us. A core belief is rather like a narrative that we've written about ourselves. It can be highly positive and energised or it can actually hold us back. It is useful to understand how this core belief influences us, whether its one that urges us on or undermines us. Imagine the working day of the person whose narrative told them, "never ever stop because if you do someone will overtake you." Not only were they running themself towards an imminent heart attack but the effect on the organisation was to create a culture without trust or collaboration.

Another core belief that seriously undermines a great number of people is "I'm not good enough." No amount of bolstering up, bravado or distraction really changes this belief. The only thing that does is a willingness to be aware of the niggling thoughts that lurk in the back of one's mind, to question them and gradually work towards re-writing the narrative.

Feng Shui of Leadership

Imagine a crystal glass of clear, pure water. Imagine yourself at the start of the day as this glass of water. Then picture the same glass at the end of the day - are you cloudy, knocked over, or literally "drained to the dregs"? Equally, you and the glass, can only hold so much.

Call it the "Feng Shui of Leadership" - keeping yourself clear and replenished means taking responsibility for yourself. Clearing out the organisational and emotional clutter, unspoken truths, ethical no-go areas etc. keeps your energy and motivation upgraded. Keeping the channels open is essential if you are to function well as a leader - having a clear view in order to see connections between diverse areas; asking "why?" even when others keep their eyes down; bringing assumptions into the open despite them being uncomfortable. Allowing time for reflection and calm, feeling a moral force that inspires you, being more honest and courageous with yourself, being prepared to take responsibility, reaching beyond yourself into areas that challenge you - these are aspects of you that make you truly valued and trusted by those who follow you.

Fixity and Flow

Think of the spectrum of energy that moves from power, ego and carelessness to a full range of what is authentic and calls upon the best in people.

Take a minute to consider the different energies inherent in this spectrum and where you want to be on it:

Fully expressing oneself Keeping at bay
Developing self and others Limiting self and others
Motivating Abuse
Trust Fear
Creativity No time!
Choice Rigidity
Generosity Greed
Understanding Confusion
Truth Isolation
Care Exploiting
Discovery Oppression

You do have a choice. You can make the difference. At the end of the day, "Leadership is just plain you!"



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