Leadership Myth Debunked

There’s an annual British Science Festival on at the moment. It slyly never fails to generate endless hours of material for afternoon radio phone-ins. One of this year’s headlines though happily had some decent meat to it from a sales perspective. In their own spin, the New Psychology of Leadership, sought to change accepted wisdom on leaders.

“Traditional approaches to leadership see it as very much an ‘I’ thing – as something that resides in the character and qualities of leaders in isolation. Fresh research, however, shows that leadership is much more of a ‘we’-thing and that to be effective, leaders need to build a sense of shared identity with followers.”

As you’d expect, there’s all sorts of broadsheet assessment of the event itself, this story included. As noted by the FT’s correspondent, it heralds the end of the “Big I Am”, the Daily Mail leant towards how great leaders listen, rather than bully, and the Irish Times liked the finding that leadership was now about ‘social identity management’.

I’ll try and extract the main points for any of us sales people that either manage an overall sales team, a specific bid team, or even seek to ‘manage’ a customer-side unit, that come from this study of 81 world leaders and 85 self-help books. Starting with the Irish Times,

[The] study of [81] world leaders by Prof Alex Haslam and Prof Kim Peters of the University of Exeter has established seven “leadership secrets” for success:

  1. Be sensitive to followers;
  2. Be positive and inspirational;
  3. Treat followers with respect;
  4. Work hard for the group;
  5. Meet or exceed followers’ expectations;
  6. Support followers;
  7. Don’t be overbearing or arrogant.

From the Daily Mail,

[A leader is] someone who is always looking to their followers and who is concerned about their relationship with them.’

The researchers identified a ‘leadership trajectory’ which eventually sees leaders fall from grace.

This happens when, instead of recognising that their success depends on keeping a good relationship with their followers, they begin to believe their own hype and the decline in popularity begins.

Good leaders must also hide the fact they are trying to be ‘one of the people’.

And from the FT,

“The patterns that emerge challenge traditional models of leadership which suggest that this is simply about the character of the people at the top,” said Prof Haslam.
“Instead they suggest that leadership is always bound up with followership, and that groups work best when leaders and followers perceive themselves to share a common sense of identity.”

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