Hopefully the irony of the title “follow me I am right behind you” is not lost on you. Especially on those who have experienced leadership both good and bad. Needless to say, we witness good leaders that have the seemingly innate ability to influence our and others, thoughts, behaviours and actions. We enthusiastically rally behind their vision, beliefs & passion for the cause and followers feel enthused and energetic. Sometimes regardless of the consequences.

That aside we have all seen what bad leaders can do to an organisation. They can seriously derail an organisation, create severe ructions, instigate upheaval and divisions within groups and individuals. A good example is the Brewdog boss James Watt who has been hoisted by his own petard recently. Having presided over massive upscaling of Brewdog in recent years, he seems to have either ignored or perpetrated a toxic organisational culture.

Current and former Brewdog employees recently published an open letter on the toxic culture at Brewdog. This letter stated a “significant number” of former staff had “suffered mental illness as a result of working at Brewdog”. The letter made a number of serious allegations, including that “Brewdog fostered a culture where staff were afraid to speak out about concerns.” For those that have missed the recent Brewdog controversy here is the story. So if a leaders hubris & ego clouds the vision or more seriously neglects their followers, then woe betide the consequences. Trust takes years to build up with followers and moments to destroy.

It’s all about Communication…….isn’t it?

As James Watt at Brewdog has discovered being a leader stems from social influence and doing the right thing, not just authority or power. However, leadership today is a difficult art partly due to the shape and methods of communication and the pace of change. It can create an illusion of control and huge expectations from the followers. Interestingly the psychological research into leadership suggests that there is no perfect personality or ideal indicator of leadership effectiveness or style. Contrary to the experts publishing reams of verbiage online.

However, to begin to look at the performance of the workgroup and the organisation is probably a good place to start. The style or personality of the leader that fits the situation or context is likely to prove to be successful. There are many styles, many paths, to be an effective leader.   Though, leadership is an adaptation to the environment, how the temperature changes within the group and a measure of the prevailing economic climate. Thus the art of good leadership, with the help of psychology, can support those with the power to change organisations & business. Moreover, support people in those organisations with well researched and evidenced-based models to reflect and utilise.   

Leadership in theory

As you would expect, psychology has a great deal to say about leadership, leadership styles and models to enthuse and motivate followers.  The cynics amongst us suggest that focussing upon upper levels of leadership & management may be due to the fact they are the groups that pay the consultants bills? Suggesting that there is no money in supporting the hoi polloi on the shop floor. However, by taking this perspective we may be missing the rafts of workers that are great “informal” leaders. These are people without the formal power to “lead” but have the ability to rally people through charismatic & insightful means. I am sure we can all remember or know people like this?  So with this knowledge in mind what makes a good leader? An Informal leader ie without power is one thing – but what are the potential methods of leadership that may help those with the formal power to lead?

Here are some of the styles of leadership from psychology:-
  • The Authoritarian
  • Transactional
  • Delegative
  • Authentic
  • Transformational
  • Laissez-faire
  • Situational

Most of us are aware of at least a few of the models of leadership. Most if not all of these models are dependant on any number of different dimensions of organisational context and cultures. No one size fits all, but please do your own research on the subject to find a model that will help understand the issues better. Try the Wikipedia link as it is a good primer to many different models and theories of leadership.

So what is Leadership?

With so many styles of leadership, how can we wade through the definitions to make any sense to us?  It seems such a simple question. Yet it seems to confuse and create contradictions for the experts and ordinary observers alike. We have introduced the theoretical understanding of leadership. Though we spend little time actually define leadership.

To that aim, the focus is on what leadership is not

About seniority

Many of the article on leadership referring to the senior members of the group or executives in the organisation. Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain elevated position. Sometimes it does but it won’t necessarily make us a leader.

About titles & position –

Similar to the above, just because an individual has reached an elevated level it clearly doesn’t make them a “leader.” As mentioned earlier many informal leaders don’t need a title to lead a group of people. In most cases, people can be a leader in a community, a family, a football team etc all without having a formal title or power.

Nothing to do with personality –

Utter the term “leader” and most people think of a dominant or inspirational charismatic individual. We often think of cultural icons from history to make these comparisons, often leading us all through a crisis or a global event.  We don’t always need extroverted charisma to practice leadership.  We have witnessed so many leadership styles and personal attributes and styles through the Covid-19 pandemic. Some held up one style of leadership over another as being the way to get us through the crisis.

Not about being a manager –

Jumping off the fence for a minute – leadership and management are not the same. Clearly, we need great managers to manage the process, teams and to organise. Managers need to plan, measure, monitor, coordinate, solve, recruit and so many other things. There may be elements of crossover between the manager and leader of course. However managers manage processes, leaders will lead & inspire people.

Are you a leader?

Leaders then help themselves and others to do the right things. They set direction, build an inspiring vision, and create something new. Leadership is about mapping out where you need to go to “win” as a team or an organisation. Developing a culture and environment that is dynamic, exciting, and inspiring. Yet, while leaders set the direction, they must also use the management skills to guide their people to the right destination, in a smooth and efficient way. Something James Watt at Brewdog is becoming only too aware of.

Of course looking through the reams of material on leadership and the disparate styles, personalities etc may leave a reader in a spin thinking well what’s best for me, the team and my business? Clearly, leadership is partly in the eye of the beholder, we all see leaders differently both good and bad. Moreover, we may be inclined to overestimate the impact of the leader particularly when performance is either good or bad. Generally, employees take the credit when things go well and the leader gets panned when things don’t go so well. One style of leadership or personality type will not make you a great leader and perhaps we need to focus our attention on how the leader is perceived rather than allowing us to just look at the leader? 

Measuring up

Whatever leadership course you may have been on, model or theory you subscribe to, perhaps the place to start to measure leadership is business. We can add in performance and group/team satisfaction and the understanding of the vision of the business. Perhaps also if the workforce or group believes in the leader. Inverting the organisational triangle to focus our attention upon those being led will provide the organisation with the insight necessary for the leadership team to evolve. Helping the leadership team to adapt styles to the context and prevailing economic and cultural environment.

Lastly……..

So as with most things in life leadership is a compromise of styles, personality and no one size fits all. Create your vision, have belief and courage in your convictions but don’t forget the context and people you work with to make the most of leading your business to success and prosperity.  The leader then could use their influence to just organise others, but leadership is about maximizing the efforts of the group or team. Focussing on the grand plan and how we can get there together. Something James Watt and the rest of the Brewdog leadership team have neglected to enact.

Leadership is not asking everyone to aim in a vague general direction and hope we get there someday. But rather, here’s the vision for where we want to go now, let’s see how much fun we can have getting there.  So then what do you think of this definition of leadership, is it the same as yours? Do you have a great leader in mind when you think of the definition of leadership? Whatever your thoughts defining leadership is never easy. When got right it is a thing of consummate skill and dexterity and a thing to behold.  Sadly when leadership is taken for granted or goes horribly wrong it ends up on a bonfire of the vanities.

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