Extraordinary performances from ordinary people

Guest blogger:

Professor Brian SmithProfessor Brian Smith, Visiting Research Fellow at The Open University Business School, Adjunct Professor at SDA Bocconi in Milan.

What constitutes a great leader? The Venturer speaks to two leading business researchers and finds out

There are only a few topics on which more words have been written than leadership. Despite this, it is still hard to get a clear answer on what a leader actually is and does. Too often, authors confuse leadership with management, leaving both managers and leaders confused.

According to Keith Ward, a Professor of Strategic Finance at Cranfield University and Dr Brian Smith, founder of Pragmedic, a business planning support consultancy in Welwyn, leaders are happiest doing only one part of their role. Each leader has a style that focuses on that part and delegates the rest. Although no two leaders are alike, leadership styles can be split into four stereotypes: inspiring, enabling, directing and incentivising.

“These styles are good in very different ways,” says Smith. “Inspiring leadership tends to create new energy. Incentivising leadership is more about refocusing the existing energy of the firm, while enabling leadership releases energy that had previously been constrained by culture and structure.”

Looking at what leaders do reveals that there is more than one way to lead, but that all leaders focus on one part of the leadership task and not on the whole, superhuman job.

Which direction?

Great leadership occurs when the leadership group collectively addresses the four core activities, and this can happen in any order; there is no one best way to lead. The challenge lies in working out what the contingency factors are that should influence how firms should be led.

“Just as the effectiveness of organisations depends on how well they align to their market, the effectiveness of any given approach to leadership depends on how well it suits its context,” explains Ward. “In reality, three contexts overlap to  influence the effectiveness of a leadership style: the leader’s skills, the follower’s needs and the business context,” he adds. In short, when a leader’s skills overlap with the needs of the business, they provide good strategic leadership. For instance, inspiring leaders work well in turbulent situations where the way ahead is not clear. “Similarly, incentivisers tend to be more effective in more stable situations where implementation rather than strategy is needed,” says Smith.

The followers

In the same way that a company must align to its customers, leadership style must align to the needs of the people they expect to follow them. In other words, business leaders don’t just lead businesses, they must lead people.

When a leader’s skills overlap with the needs of the people, they provide good people leadership. For instance, inspiring, visionary leaders work well when the whole organisation needs to buy in to a change programme. When only a few key people need to be carried along, directing leaders work best. Enabling and incentivising seem only to work when buy-in is less of an issue.

“The mass of leadership philosophies confuses as often as it informs, but beneath the hype and opinion there lies some basic truths,” adds Smith. Leadership is about alignment. Leadership requires either a superhuman or, more likely, a complementary team. And there’s no one best way to lead, only a way which best suits the business, the leader and the led. “Leaders, aspiring or actual, would be wise to learn these lessons,” he concludes.


This article is based on Keith Ward’s new book, Extraordinary Performance from Ordinary People, Elsevier 2006. Email Brian Smith at brian.smith@pragmedic.com with your comments

How social media teaches us about leadership

Guest blogger:

Jon BakerJon BakerOpen University Business School MBA Alumnus; the “5 to 50” business coach, speaker, sales trainer. 

At first glance social media and leadership might not sound too similar, but stop for a moment, have you ever thought about good social media practice? What do you think makes a person successful in social media?

Now think about leadership. We know that leadership is important in both small firms and much larger ones. Good leadership is essential as you build a good team and contributes to the success of your company. So what do you think makes a good leader? Recently a client conversation made me connect leadership and social media.

Social media and leadership

ThinkstockThere is one word that connects leadership with social media, that’s ‘followers’.

Getting people to follow you, somewhere they probably wouldn’t have gone without you, is a key leadership skill. You need to make them want to go there. Being able to force them there is not as effective or productive.

‘Followers’ became a trendy word because of Twitter. Now think about Leadership: Is inspiring people to work for you not more effective than forcing them?

7 leadership tips to inspire more followers

  • Give short, concise, and consistent messages: Sporadically communicating on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn is not a good policy. Regular, consistent, and concise messages will make followers want to look to see what’s new.
  • Messages that are interesting: When your social media content is not interesting, your followers will stop following. It’s important that messages are interesting to your followers, not just to you.
  • You need to be yourself: Sound bites maybe what you need to use to get attention (and in Twitter they are all you get!). However, when people feel like they know you, they are more likely to help you succeed. As with face to face, it is important to forge a connection with your followers.
  • Attitude: Do you prefer to follow positive or negative people? Putting out an occasional sarcastic tweet might be good fun, but doing a ‘BMW’ (bitching, moaning and whining) all the time will lose you followers. In the real world, have you ever known a person who drains your energy with their negative persona? I bet you try to avoid them. The same will be true online and you won’t follow them for long. It is only you that can choose your attitude, so choose it and share it well – or become known as an energy drain.
  • The ‘retweet’ (RT): “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish” (Sam Walton). If that isn’t what a RT does, what is it? What can you do to pass on good messages from your team, and make them feel good?
  • Share the big picture: What are you really about? If your tribe doesn’t know you (your vision, your goals), will they follow you for long?
  • Keep an eye on your vision: If it’s your vision and values that will inspire (or at least interest) others, make sure you keep close to them. It’s easy to get lost in replying to all the tweets and forget what you are really on social media for. Spend time revisiting your vision regularly; don’t lose track of what you’re really there for.

Leadership is about influencing people to do the right things that will help your bottom line. Do you think social media is about leadership? Share your views in the comment area.

This article was written by Jon Baker of venture-Now.  Jon helps professionals grow their firms from 5 to 50 employees, sustainably and profitably while they still have fun.