Google the word ‘leadership’ and you get about 155 million entries. But the
notion of leadership is beset by myths.
One of the biggest myths is that it concerns only the people at the top. But
if that is the case, then where leaders are is more important than what they do.
The number of ‘failed’ high-profile leaders littering recent history suggests
that both they and their employers who hired them were seduced by this myth.
In reality, flatter hierarchies, more intense competition, greater
uncertainty and an accelerating pace of change mean that companies need leaders
at all levels. The job of a good leader is not to create an army of followers
but to create other leaders. Nor do leaders have to be good at everything; they
need to create teams with a full range of leadership talent.
IBM’s recent study, Unlocking the DNA of the adaptable workforce, which
highlights a leadership vacuum caused primarily by an ageing population and
companies’ failure to develop leaders, makes alarming reading. Without positive
action the problem will get worse, but organisations that acknowledge and
address the problem could be at a competitive advantage.
Perhaps one of the most important roles of a leader is to help their team
embrace change, which, although it is more or less constant these days, still
represents a threat to most of us.
But leaders should look to their own achievements too. IBM found that
businesses that deal well with change are better than others at identifying and
managing talent. They are also non-hierarchical and share information and are
good at predicting their future skills requirements. But most organisations lack
accurate data on who they have working for them today, let alone what they will
Setting the talent management strategy has to be one of the most critical
roles of senior leadership and part of that strategy should be a commitment to
hiring older workers. Companies instinctively lean towards recruiting younger
people in the misguided belief that they are more flexible and adaptable than
their older colleagues.
But not only have older workers been around the block a few times, they are
also more productive, more loyal and take less time off sick than their younger
So not only can they help to fill the skills gap, they are great leadership
role models too.
Richard Ashcroft is group FD of Harvey Nash
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