You are on page 1of 2


why do people choose a specific person to lead them?

something and dont need to improve we do. Because the only thing we know for certain is that tomorrow things will be different including peoples expectations of their leaders. Leaders, therefore, need to constantly re-examine and refine everything they believe in and do. Effective leadership requires flexibility: the ability to interpret situations, discern changes and respond appropriately. Not surprisingly, the issues we address with our clients in the coaching process and the outcomes of the research affirm each other. The study reveals that behaviours are important. Let me show you is so much more convincing for followers than let me tell you. And since coaching is largely about reflecting on and implementing actions, we can translate the research findings into actionable behaviours. Perhaps one of the most powerful and valuable conclusions of the research relates to the exploration of humility, an aspect of leadership that is often overlooked. Leaders face a great danger of believing their own propaganda and crossing that fine line between self-confidence and arrogance largely to the detriment of engendering dedicated, eager followers. The adage holds true: perception is reality. Leadership, like music, is often described as an art, a belief, a condition of the heart; a concept that is measured not by the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among followers. Leading an organisation, like creating a musical opus, is an evolving journey, one that is not judged solely by the name of the composer, but rather by the extent to which it evokes a response in devotees. So, with this in mind, what is our new angle on leadership in the South African context? Following a combination of exploratory quantitative and qualitative research, the study revealed five dimensions of leadership. While statistically each dimension is distinct, they are also to an extent interdependent. Together they merge to depict leadership as multifaceted and intrinsically much more than the result of genetic predisposition.

Seen at A Leadership Opus, a joint study initiative by the Wits Business School and Change Partners, were from left Conrad Viedge, senior lecturer in human resources, Tessa Murray, case writer in the Case Study Department, both of the Wits Business School, Prof Patrick Fitzgerald, dean of commerce, law and management at Wits, Andy Johnson, managing partner of Change Partners and author of this article, and Dr Anthony Stacey, senior lecturer in analytical methods at the Wits Business School.

It is human nature to assume we know what others think, feel and want. Sometimes, though, we forget to ask them. So, in our endeavour to understand leadership from a followers point of view, that is exactly what we did. We asked the followers of a spectrum of successful executives how they experience the attributes and behaviours of their leaders in the South African context. Through the study, entitled A Leadership Opus, in collaboration with the Wits Business School we sought to elicit how acknowledged leaders characteristics manifest (not what followers believe makes a good leader). We wanted to know how leaders must behave to attain committed and passionate followers.

A new view of the top Lets face it: extensive research about leadership exists. Actually, there is not much that is new. But, this does not mean we cant contemplate the subject from a fresh perspective, generate debate and perhaps even learn something. Executive coaching is all about looking at things anew and encouraging discussion to better understand insights we can ex-

plore with our clients. For us, therefore, the study about how followers in South Africa perceive their leaders constitutes an extension of our quest to continually learn about leadership in all of its facets. The research augments what our executive coaches already know about leadership and provides a valuable, contextually based snapshot about what followers think of their leaders in the current socio-economic environment rather than relying on historical data. Undoubtedly, with the pace of social change, leaders in South Africa particularly need to be aware of what is important to people, now. Our study is perhaps a necessary and timely reminder for leaders to assess themselves from their followers perspectives. After all, the majority of leading once you have mastered how to lead yourself comprises having a sensitive awareness regarding what your followers want and need. Because, without followers, you simply cant be a leader. The only thing we know for sure is that change is constant. What does the research tell us, intrinsically? Just when we think we have mastered

14 Management Today August 2006

The dimensions of leadership revealed in the study strongly resonate the musical theme and are thus analogously named as follows: Dimension one: composing Composing encapsulates the extent to which a leader sets the tone and creates an environment that attracts and retains followers, giving them a sense of purpose and belonging, and engendering feelings of significance and excitement. Followers perceive leaders who successfully create this ambience as displaying integrity, consistency, trust and creditability qualities they are willing to commit to. From the research, composing appears to be more about how the leader delivers the tone that maintains follower and business performance rather than the tone itself. Dimension two: conducting Conducting denotes the extent to which leaders include, enable and know their followers. It is derived from the notion of generalship and the accurate combination of varied forces to perform in unison. In the role as conductor, the leader determines how followers will achieve the set direction including and enabling them to create, innovate and deliver. Followers regard successful conductors as empowering, facilitating and collaborating, allowing individuals to operate with authority. To mitigate the associated risk implied, leaders know their followers in a deep, authentic way and successfully balance the concern for the task and the concern for the individual. Followers are clear: inclusion is necessary to enhance performance, achieve ownership and a sense of belonging, generate ideas and foster retention. But, while leaders must engage followers in the decision making process, they must also retain responsibility generalship. Dimension three: playing solo Playing solo reflects the degree to which leaders delegate to their followers. Leaders either assume the solo role exclusively or allow followers to contribute through appropriate delegation. Followers perceive leaders either as controlling, micromanagers or risk takers who delegate responsibility with confidence in their followers. The latter entails placing the right person in the right job, developing skills where they are lacking, communicating sincerely and effectively and building relationships characterised by confidence and trust. Dimension four: creating harmony To what extent do leaders create a sense of community? Creating harmony encapsulates this no-

tion. It represents combining voices or people in essence, creating community. In this context autocratic and arrogant leaders create discord which may, if sustained, lead to disintegration of the leadership team and eventually the organisation. Concordant leaders, on the other hand, encourage participation, listening to their followers and creating a community where followers achieve self-actualisation. Creating harmony requires successfully balancing participation and consensus with leadership. Dimension five: performing the encore The final dimension, performing the encore, signifies enduring leadership and the ability to sustain the organisation. When a performance has been outstanding and the audience wants more, it requests an encore. Many leaders may be tempted to accept this adulation as a sign of their personal achievement; others may accept it with humility on behalf of all those who have contributed. Leaders pursuing their individual ambitions create an environment that sustains

the leader, not the organisation. Those who lead with humility, however, bow and extend their arms to incorporate all those who participated in performing the opus thereby maintaining follower support and creating an enduring enterprise. Want to be the maestro? Weve asked followers what they want in a leader. They have said: leaders in todays business environment need to exhibit particular qualities and behaviours. The question to ask yourself is whether you meet these expectations. Do you instil a sense of purpose and belonging in your followers? Do you know them, really? Do you delegate, confident that your followers will deliver? Do you engender participation? Do you recognise that your success ultimately rests on the success of others? Becoming a maestro in this regard does not solely require the acquisition of new skills. It takes self-awareness, practice and integrity. And it may also take someone else to help you work out what you need to ask yourself as a leader, so you can find the answers you seek.

Management Today August 2006