We all have a tendency towards grandiosity, but the truth is we can’t all be leaders. Leaders’ lessons are full of fibs, forgotten mistakes and photo-shopped memories. Sports people who are consulted on leadership can’t even transfer their skills to another sport, let alone to organisations.
The people who really make things happen are followers. But us followers definitely need good leadership to be at our best. How do we discover a lot about good leadership if we can’t learn much from leaders, themselves? By abandoning top-down leadership analysis and asking followers what makes good or bad leaders.
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- The cult of leadership by studying leaders doesn’t deliver
- There are a lot more followers than leaders
- Politics and business succeeds by knowing their end-users
- We’ll learn more about leadership by studying followers
About Alastair Herbert:
I’m the founder of Linguabrand, an insights and strategy consultancy. Our deep-listening robot, Bob, measures brand differentiation and consumer psychology. This helps our clients position their brand to difference while connecting their comms to customers’ deeper needs. We’re based in the UK but work around the world.
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By Alastair Herbert
We all have a tendency towards grandiosity. The hypnotherapy surfacing an everyday person’s past existence as Cleopatra. That glow of pride when our family history reveals some tenuous connection to nobility. The slightly mysterious, adventurer great-grandfather we’re proud to call our own.
We instinctively seem to want to rise above our own ordinariness. Is that why so many people seem to be striving to be someone at the top? To be the person who leads others to greater things?
Biographies of high-profile business people are scoured for approaches that can be replicated. Sports managers have people flocking to hear the secrets behind their considerable success.
But I believe the cult of leadership by studying leaders doesn’t deliver.
Leaders’ lessons are full of fibs, forgotten mistakes and photo-shopped memories. That’s just human nature. Luck, favourable circumstances and the contribution of others are elbowed away, making more room to show off their remarkable perspicacity and razor-sharp decision-making skills.
As for those leading sports managers… Where’s the football manager who’s now running an F1 team? Or the cricket coach who’s made a name for themselves in rugby? As a sports fan, I can’t think of a single one of them that’s successfully transferred their skills to another sport. Their leadership and man-management abilities just don’t work beyond their narrow discipline. So why does this myth of sports leadership continue? Because there’s a pact between business and sport – business people pretend there are lessons to be learnt simply as a way of meeting their heroes.
The reality is we can’t all be leaders.
And that’s good. Because the people who really make things happen are the ordinary people – the vast majority of us.
But us followers definitely need good leadership to be at our best. A consultant friend for health and local authorities believes leadership is the single biggest difference between effective and poorly-run organisations.
How do we discover a lot about good leadership if we can’t learn much from leaders, themselves? Well, the most successful politicians understand their voters. Growing businesses exert a lot of effort understanding their customers. So perhaps knowing what makes good leaders should be about understanding us – the followers, the ordinary people?
‘As followers, what do we need from our leaders?’
‘Does every follower need the same sort of leadership?’
Let’s throw away our delusions of grandeur and abandon top-down leadership analysis. We’ll find better answers by asking ourselves some simple leading questions.