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Searching for success

Are leaders born or made? Over the succeeding pages we take a look at the qualities you'll need, how companies can identify leadership potential, the benefits of one-to-one coaching and the nuts and bolts of management training.

Comparing the former Prime Minister John Major’s style of leadership with that of his predecessor Margaret Thatcher (today Baroness Thatcher) just highlights how different leadership styles can be. A powerful figure on the world stage, Thatcher inspired her followers with her determination and single-minded vision. Major had an altogether quieter and chairman-like style.

Whatever the business or political set up, all leaders have an allotted time to bring in their policies before people become fed up with their style.

“Between eight and 10 years is a long time to lead and keep in sync with an organisation,” says Keith Burgess, global managing partner, responsible for business process management at Andersen Consulting. “After that length of time, whether she was right or wrong, people had begun to get irritated with Thatcher’s style.”

Every leader has a different style of working. What is important is that a leader’s style fits the business and its people. Firms experience problems when they change their leaders because the new style of leadership is often very different from the one preceding it, often because it is compensating for the weaknesses in the old one.

“One of the qualities of a good leader is fitting the personality to the context to produce perfect leadership,” says Burgess. “But one style will not fit in all situations.”

When under pressure, Burgess believes that people want a leader who is sharp, quick, and takes a decisive approach. They want someone whose vision and ideas they can follow; someone they can have confidence in, who can set a course that is good for the firm.

But in good times, on the whole, people prefer consensual leadership:

“They prefer a leader with a classic chairmanship function, who pulls together different points of view from people, rather than a leader who gets up in front of his workforce and expects them to follow,” Burgess says. “But it does not necessarily follow that those leaders who prefer consensus management have the talent to see over the hill and make anticipatory change.”

What is important is identifying leaders who can build the careers of those around them and who feel an obligation to building and evolving the organisation.

Burgess says: “It takes the young braves to kill the buffalo, but it takes the old braves to find the herd.”

KPMG studies tastes of high-flyers

KPMG’s 1998 British Business Leadership Survey, examines the differences between 200 of the UK’s high-flyers and less successful leaders.

The survey found that there are some marked differences in backgrounds and attitudes of high-flyers and lower achievers.

Public school is the most likely educational background of a high-flyer, with 29 percent having been to public school. While only 16 percent of less successful leaders went to public school, a higher number, 27 percent, studied at a comprehensive.

Career profiles

The survey found that the most successful business leaders took up a business career from an early age; 39 percent of respondents said they left education with a business degree, compared to 21 percent of lower achievers.

Having a finance qualification was cited as the most important attribute of a successful business leader, by 69 percent of the high-flyers. Lower achievers put finance seventh on their lists.

On the evidence of the research high-flyers tend to focus more on driving up the profitability of their business. Making a step change in profitability through new ventures and acquisitions is regarded as all important.

Lower achievers were found to be more risk averse, while high-flyers pushed ahead championing the careers of others. Developing their companies and creating a broader vision are high on their achievement list.

A high proportion of high-flyers (46 percent) described themselves as natural risk takers; and 63 percent thought they were effective diplomats.

High-flyers were found to have very high expectations and ambitions and had reached top positions in their firms at an early age. Tackling large restructuring projects within their own firms was viewed as a challenge and not something to be afraid of.

Views about best business leaders

A high percentage of business leaders put Richard Branson in pole position: 37 percent of the high-flyers interviewed, and 55 percent of lower achievers cited Branson as the top business leader in the UK. In the best non-business leader category 49 percent of all those surveyed voted for Prime Minister Tony Blair. In second place is Baroness Thatcher. The US was believed to produce the best business leaders by 61 percent of all the respondents.

Most important attributes of a business leader

The most important quality needed for leadership, cited by 35 percent of the respondents, was the ability to turn vision into reality. 23 percent of all business leaders thought that motivation was the single most important factor for leadership success. Having a strong sense of purpose was considered a desirable attribute of a leader by 12 percent of those surveyed.

The interviewees were board directors of companies with an annual turnover of #50m and included managing directors (27 percent), financial directors (22 percent) and chairmen (3 percent). Of their companies, 40 percent were in the manufacturing sector, 16 percent in finance and 18 percent in retail distribution.


The Gallup Organisation believes it has developed some questions and answers to the dilemma of choosing and training leaders. Over the last two years the firm has developed the financial young leaders’ interview that it believes will help firms determine whether they have potential leaders on board, or whether they are just wasting their time and resources.

The interview

In its survey, Understanding talent for leadership, Gallup developed the Financial Young Leaders Interview for a City of London-based financial institution, to help it with succession planning. Gallup’s aim was to understand what differentiates a potential high-flying leader from the average employee. Of the 253 people interviewed, 19 were identified as stars.

The leadership interview was made up of 360 degree feedback. Candidates were asked to describe their daily demands, challenges; how their talents were used as employees, within the team, with customers and how they played to their strengths.

Research into leadership

The model interview is based on leadership interviews and research completed for the Corps of Engineers, the civil engineering arm of the US army in 1988. At the time, Gallup examined the attributes that distinguish leaders who are highly regarded from those who do not match up, or fall into the average category.

Over the 10-year period, it went on to study leaders in the public and private sectors on both sides of the Atlantic. It analysed the qualities portrayed by chief executives leading the Fortune 500 and a smaller selection of the UK FT100 companies, and undertook three million leadership interviews and 1,000 research studies in order to discover common values among leaders.

Leadership values

Gallup isolated a number of common principles: good leaders have a belief in talent and people’s uniqueness; play to strengths and manage weaknesses; focus on what people are, rather than what they are not; study success not failure. Gallup also found that talented people do more of the right things each day relevant to the outcomes of the role, and think, talk and behave differently.

Leadership model and profiles

Gallup’s conceptual model of leadership incorporates 20 qualities: ego drive, competition, achiever, courage, activator; vision, concept, focus, strategic thinking; relator, developer, multi-relator, individualised perception, stimulator, team; performance orientation, discipline, responsibility/ethics, arranger and operational.

Hilary Osmend, leadership programme co-ordinator at Gallup says: “These themes are not considered to be skills, but fundamental parts of who people are and how they function.” The model can be broadly grouped into four sections: setting the purpose and direction of the firm; motivation, and what makes people into leaders, underpinned by a fulcrum of solid values; people and relationship building; processes and management.


What links leaders is ego, having a competitive drive, and a desire for personal success. Leaders will be driven by deeply held personal values which filter through the entire organisation, such as a belief in human potential.

Purpose and direction

If leaders want people to follow them, they need to be able to inspire them with new ideas and themes and have a clear vision or purpose. Without followers there are no leaders and without leaders’ ability to bring people along with them they will have no followers.

Relationships and people

People become great leaders by building relationships on a “one by one” basis with colleagues and clients. Great leaders understand the principles behind being multi-relators and natural networkers. The multiplier characteristic is one of the most important and is inherent in leaders like Richard Branson.

They recruit the right people for the right roles and develop supporters who spread their message.

Processes and Management

Leaders get pleasure out of watching others grow and develop. They act like theatre directors, marshalling their resources, making sure people are in the right place at the right time, but giving employees the space to complete the work efficiently and effectively.

Osmend concludes: “No leader can have all these qualities but having a combination is essential to ensure that people follow you.”

Cosima Duggal


Consultants are expert practitioners. Strategy consultants, for instance, set companies on course. BPR consultants can restructure a business till the cows come home. But there’s a risk that consultants can become too narrowly channelled in their expertise.

The danger becomes even greater when you climb the career ladder. It’s assumed that a consultant who was initially employed for knowing a particular industry segment or C++ backwards will somehow acquire the management and interpersonal skills needed to deal with senior clients. Going from practitioner to manager to client director or partner can be difficult for even the brightest consultant.

The process of selling work to clients – from networking, identifying and warming up target clients to getting an invoice out and money in – is, in particular, a much neglected area. It is almost assumed that you either have it or you don’t. However, it is a skill that can be taught – so why isn’t it?

In a consultancy context, skills development is best done by one-to-one coaching. But coaching is about more than just building up your repertoire of skills – or else why do you need an external coach as opposed to just an internal mentor?

I was the recipient of a series of coaching sessions when I first joined Nicholson McBride. In my first session, my coach told me that I came across as arrogant. I was stunned. Not just because I know what a modest, insightful chap I am (!) but because I’m a psychologist – and supposedly hypersensitive to what others are thinking, not least about me! In retrospect, it was a great start to my career at a new firm – who else is going to tell you something like that to your face? Although most consultants have internal mentors or appraising managers, colleagues often feel uncomfortable pointing out rough edges in one’s personality. Consequently, feedback from internal people can be bland and unhelpful to the recipient or focus on areas that need only minor improvement as opposed to major development.

You could argue that a coach has only limited knowledge of your company and can only talk to you about issues that you choose to raise. However, a good coach would almost certainly start by gathering 360-degree feedback on you through interviews and questionnaires. While junior colleagues are sometimes reluctant to give wholly honest feedback for fear of retribution, experience shows that people are much happier opening up to trusted outsiders.

Of course, the coach then has to report back to you in a way that will avoid giving away the identify of specific people.

Different people use coaches in different ways. Very senior people often use their coaches as sounding boards. It’s a truism that “it’s lonely at the top” – a senior partner or director can often have no one to bounce ideas off. Who would you talk to, for example, if you received an intriguing call from a headhunter? Talking to an external coach allows the discussion of ideas away from the hotbed of internal politics and conflicts. Better still, your coach is more than just an impartial judge, he or she is on your side.

In terms of the frequency of the sessions, it’s better to have a half-hour coaching session once a fortnight rather than an hour a month or a few hours quarterly. Why? Because coaching is only useful if events are fresh in your mind. How can you discuss the impact of a particular event on you and your career if it happened six weeks ago? Will you still remember the detail?

It is essential to choose the right coach. Qualifications are less important than a successful track record, good listening skills, and an ability to strip away excuses and rationalisations to understand the real reasons you behave the way you do. A coach is there to help you improve your performance, not worry about your feelings or be your best friend. They may need to challenge you and bring to your attention issues that you may not wish to admit to yourself, and for this you need someone with a direct manner that borders on tactlessness. Finally, a coach needs to be able to diagnose your situation and map out a process that is continuous, sequential, and cumulative to help you to become what you aspire to be.

Dr Rob Yeung is a business psychologist who works for consultancy Nicholson McBride


Here’s a fact to think about: in the last decade, the assets of the top 10 world corporate giants have tripled in size. And as corporations have grown in scale and geographic range, it is surely no accident that the subject of leadership has caught the spotlight of much management literature as well as the business press. Today, a vigilant and demanding shareholder public, plus a vastly expanded business media, constantly measure the quality of projected leadership. Where they deem corporate leadership weak, they’ll invariably ask, “What have you done for me lately?” In the same spirit, newly appointed CEOs are generally given a short window of time to get their bearings as leaders, while retired CEOs are less likely to hang around as board members and consultants than in the past.

In the last decade we’ve seen the emergence of a handful of CEOs who cast a giant shadow. Leaders like Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca, GE’s Jack Welch, and ABB’s Percy Barnevik have demonstrated the power of a single individual at the top to create vast amounts of economic value. It used to be that a CEO had only to be a good manager, recognised as such by his peers and his board. Nowadays CEOs must demonstrate leadership prowess, to show in thought and deed an understanding of the dynamics of value enhancement, to be aware of opportunity and impatient to exploit it.

In large corporations today, a benchmark of a CEO’s leadership ability would surely include the following factors:

Ensuring that the company has world-class management processes – the best practices in strategic planning, marketing, human relations, and so on.

Making the endorsement and support of core values a condition of employment for key managers.

Defining the corporation’s boundaries – a challenge for leaders in today’s environment that their predecessors rarely faced.

Acknowledging and responding to the needs of the modern-day knowledge organisation, or the learning organisation.

Being a role model – an inescapable aspect of leadership for the CEO.

Advocating new behavioural skills.

The CEOs profiled in our book represent some of the chief movers and shapers around the globe. Here they present their ideas on a number of management issues from leading and motivating people to learning from customers to revitalise their businesses.

One of the most independent-minded CEOs in the history of the air transport business is Sir Colin Marshall, chairman of British Airways. The company’s initials, BA, stood for “bloody awful” at the beginning of his tenure, and for “bloody amazing” after he’d transformed it into one of the premier customer service organisations in the world.

Compaq’s Eckard Pfeiffer is the personification of the leader in a race against himself. No matter what industry a company competes in, he says, it must live with one foot in the present and the other in the future.

There’s simply no other way to build world leadership.

Somewhat different leadership qualities are on display at LSG/SKY Chefs, the giant of in-flight food services, where Michael Kay tells how he took the helm as turnaround guru. He recognised that he had one major shortcoming – a scanty knowledge of the industry and the company – and one major imperative, to revive the company before it turned into a corpse. His leadership strategy was to set audacious productivity hurdles and then cheer on his executives and employees to go out and leap over them.

If an important characteristic of leadership is the ability to go against the traditional hierarchy, then Monsanto’s CEO, Robert Shapiro, deserves a medal for initiating strategy sessions with cross-sections of employees of different ranks, specialities, and geographical perspectives.

What all these narratives have in common is a single theme: the personal will of the CEO to make a difference, to stand out in history. Achieving recognition for leadership qualities is the Holy Grail of CEOs, but there are clearly many diverse roads to the prize.

This article is an extract from the book Straight from the CEO, published by PwC

Books on management Managing without management, by Richard Koch & Ian Godden

Koch and Godden look at the idea that the structure of the modern corporation is becoming increasingly outdated. Part of the problem is seen as management; the way forward is seen as managing without management. A supercorporation is envisaged, run by managers. These radical proposals are backed up with various business models.

The ultimate business guru book, by Stuart Crainer

Crainer has assembled a veritable jamboree of business thinkers from all areas of management. Basically this is an A to Z of business thinking in which Crainer looks at the most influential top 50 thinkers. From Tom Peters to Max Weber, we are given an insight into the visions of the gurus. A good guide for beginners.

Managing with a heart, by Sharon Good

As the title suggests this is a feelgood book about management. Sub-titled as 205 ways to make your employees feel appreciated we are given suggestions, some good, some bad, as to what can be done to inspire “loyalty, devotion and respect” among the workforce. Management for the caring, sharing ’90s.

Memos from the chairman, by Alan C Greenberg

Greenberg, as chairman of investment bank Bear Stearns, was renowned for his use of the company memo to inspire his staff. Over a period of nearly 20 years the memo was used to cajole, castigate and coax employees on to better things. Often funny, often wise, we are given a selection of the most inspiring memos.

Managing with the gurus by Carol Kennedy

Another who’s who of the management world in which Kennedy looks at the key managerial techniques with the help of business gurus. Looking at issues such as leadership, motivation and decision making, the book gives us the thoughts of the key thinkers on each subject and suggests further reading.

Successful management by Neville Bain

As the chief executive of Coats Viyella, Bain brings his considerable experience of management to the fore. He looks at the various strategies that can bring success and profit to a company. Free of jargon and full of experience the book offers an invaluable insight into the whole management experience.

Lateral leadership by Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp

Described as the ultimate guide to getting things done with others, this is a book about team and project work. Fisher and Sharp look at ways to build up leadership skills without being the boss, and without treading on colleagues toes. Easy to read and full of good advice.

Managerial consulting skills by Charles J Margerison

A valuable book for consultants in all aspects of their work. Margerison looks at the varying aspects of consultancy on an individual and group basis. He focuses on the importance of consultancy in all its facets and the keys to gaining management success.

The management experts on leadership

“The new leader … commits people to action, … converts followers into leaders, and … may convert leaders into agents of change.”

Warren Bennis

American academic and administrator

“Management has joined the ranks of the dangerous professions.”

James Champy

American consultant

“You can’t think your way out of a box, you’ve got to act.”

Tom Peters

American consultant, speaker and author

“The motivation, the potential for development, the capacity for assuming responsibility … are all present in people. Management does not put them there.”

Douglas McGregor

American academic

“A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules.”

Nicolo Machiavelli

Florentine diplomat and author


Management trainer and coach Richard Moat believes leadership can be taught. “Some people believe that a leader has to have natural charisma,” he says, “but there are different leadership styles and they can all be effective. It all depends on individuals: you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But the more tools you have as a leader the more effective you can be.”

He says leaders have to be a role model; be able to communicate; and earn respect through their experience. “Then there are the extra bits: charisma, which doesn’t work for everybody, flexibility, positive outlook, selflessness, the absence of a big ego, vision and qualities such as honesty, sincerity and trustworthiness. With all these attributes a leader should get most people on-board.”

Moat’s company, Moativation, has undertaken leadership, motivation and self-development courses for a number of blue-chip companies, including the Halifax building society, Ely Lily, British Airways and the Prudential.

Moat also does a lot of personal coaching for senior executives.

His three-week training course for the Pru is designed to give staff the foundation skills necessary to be effective managers. “The average group size is 15 and there is a lot of group work and interaction,” he says. “We aim to cover such areas as how to motivate, leadership skills, how to manage people, how to do one-to-one interviews with staff and give them feedback on their performance, coaching, and how to give presentations.”

The courses look at leadership styles. Moat outlines four general types: selfish; gut feeling; scientific – based on assessing people’s readiness to do a job; and adaptive – where different people are managed in different ways.

The best approach, says Moat, is a combination of the scientific and the adaptive. “We use the analogy of landing a plane to show that if you use the scientific approach you can get somebody with no training to do it successfully.”

The attendees are split into groups. “We take them through a series of steps so that they understand that the combination of ability and motivation displayed by the team member in the plane will determine their degree of readiness to fly it and therefore how they need to be led. The leader on the floor has to establish the readiness level and then will apply the appropriate leadership style be it directive, coaching, supportive or delegative.”

This ability to assess your team members is also important in motivating them, he adds, because to do that you need to find out what their personal values are.

He categorises people into four basic types: fiery red (do it now types who are not interested in your opinion); sunshine yellow (fun to be with but not good at seeing things through); earth green (calm, reserved and inclined to sit on the fence); and cool blue (detached, analytical and interested in details).

“To get the best out of people you need to identify their preferences and adapt your behaviour to it. It is all about building rapport.”

Moat uses these principles when running his courses. “You have to pitch it at the level where everyone has enough information to assimilate – those who want more – typically cool blues – can get it at a break.” In many companies, says Moat, the training material used mistakenly assumes that all people take in information at the same rate.

Moat has to be able to practise what he preaches on the motivation front during his courses, and carry the attendees with him. Consistency is important, he says. “I have to be a role model so that the trainees won’t question what I’m saying. I will never talk on a subject that I have no experience of – there’s no credibility there. I say ask me any question you like and I’ll give you an honest answer. Out of credibility stems respect – then they are willing to take on board everything you give them.”

Establishing this credibility can take trainers some time to do. “It is all about communicating,” says Moat.

He is often told, at the end of a course, that he has converted a sceptic.

But, he says, “people do not retain new habits and methods unless they are repeated and reinforced. I would always recommend that companies adopt on-going development programmes rather than quick fix, one-hit wonders.”

Prudent training policies at the Pru

With 3,500 staff in the field, Prudential Insurance pays a great deal of attention to training and development. The company has its own internal training team but also employs external consultants. Peter Roberts is responsible for the latter. “We put our external consultants through a rigorous selection process: they have to do a 20-minute interactive role play on a subject of our choice and we assess their performance against our internal training standards. We expect them to be of a very high calibre and some find it a rather daunting process as they are more used to assessing others than being assessed themselves.”

A SWOT analysis is also carried out and a personality profile compiled, using the Discus system, before the Pru decides the training consultant is up to the job.

Prudential branch training manager Cary Dawes attended a management course run by external trainer Richard Moat, before taking up his post. He says: “Richard has an optimistic and upbeat attitude and is very much a motivator – he makes you feel enthusiastic and optimistic about the future.” Dawes says that the course has changed his behaviour towards others.

“I can see the merit in the colour system,” he says, and now assesses people on that basis and adjusts his management style accordingly.

The success of a course is also judged by the company: attendees are assessed on what they have learnt. Besides written papers on financial regulations and management guidelines, the trainees have to undergo a number of role play tests in front of a group of trainers.

And those who get through have to stay on their toes. The company keeps tabs on their progress, says Roberts. “We assess them again five weeks later to make sure they are still practising the skills they have learnt, and twice-yearly from then on.”

Reinforcement of the messages given is very important, he says, and to that end line managers have training at regular intervals under the company’s Horizon programme.

Mary Huntington is a freelance journalist.

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