Much of the business world is centred on finding leaders: people who take charge, produce results and move mountains. Naturally, I’d say entrepreneurs are born leaders, but are they good leaders? How many of the successful ones excel at identifying gaps in the market, but fail to develop their staff properly?
I have been thinking a lot about the importance of leadership in the past few weeks and the difference in how good and bad leadership is treated. Good leadership can go unnoticed and unrewarded, but poor leadership leads to so many problems that boards and chief executives who stick theirs heads in the sand will only cause more trouble.
Take former Haringey children’s services director Sharon Shoesmith, who was at the helm of the council responsible for protecting Baby P. While the Court of Appeal ruled this month that Haringey Council had been “procedurally unfair” in sacking her over the baby’s horrendous, they did not say she deserved to remain in the position.
Ms Shoesmith said her dismissal after a damning Oftsted report was unjustified and that then education secretary Mr Balls had left children’s social care in “disarray”. But, really the 58-year-old was the one who left the council’s department in “disarray”.
Her department staff were unsupported and understaffed, and procedures not followed. The truth is she failed to lead and her failure, in part, contributed to the death of a baby.
On the other side of the coin, I was impressed by the story of Nancy Lieberman told in The New Yorker.
Lieberman is the head of minor-league basketball team called the Texas Legends, an affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks, in the NBA’s Development League, or commonly mocked D-League.
The team plays to crowds of a few thousand in unheralded regional cities. Most players hope that if they stick with it, they could one day score that big break and join the big league.
Lieberman was the first woman to play men’s professional basketball in 1986, pulling on a jersey for the short-lived Springfield Fame. While she wasn’t the first of her gender to coach male basketballers, she has been one of the most successful.
Her technique has been to support and empathise. ‘I tell these guys we have more in common than you think,” she says, revealingly, about her style.
In the current climate of middle-management downsizing, most notably in the public sector, it’s important to remember that while shedding managers may boost the bottom line, losing good leaders will cost in time.