Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Monday, 14 September 2009

Leadership - is it relative?

A comment today that I heard in a panel discussion this evening with a FTSE 100 Chairman led me to wonder whether we all mean the same thing when we talk about leadership. In his view, the leadership he was talking about - the leadership that is real in his world - is running a FTSE 100 company. In discussion with a group of emerging women leaders, he went on to ask who really wants to be a leader. Because leadership was lonely; at the very top there is no-one to consult with; the decisions are all yours, with advice from others that is very often biased. Thousands of lives can depend on your decision. His comments generated some fiery discussion, particularly from those who thought he was fundamentally trying to put women off leadership as he saw it. His intention he said was almost the opposite; in fact, as an orphan, at boarding school and through his life he had been groomed for loneliness, and hence was able to cope with life at the top. I found the whole exchange a fascinating human insight into the world of the sort of person I rarely meet, but often talk about. And whilst it sounded like it was far from a joyous experience, it was one from which all can learn, about the real challenge of life at the top and coping mechanisms if you see the space you want to step into, but know you were not groomed for. The exchange also led me to ponder what a leadership heirarchy might look like, particularly if you took as the starting point the leadership of a FTSE 100 organisation, and how aspects of leadership might cascade from there if we saw leading companies as the pinnacle.