Every day I pick up the newspaper and read the daily rhetoric about people in positions of leadership. Their decisions are critiqued, what they say is analysed and, more often than not, criticised.
As a CEO myself, I accept that this level of scrutiny comes with the territory.
Lately, however, I've been asking myself; what constitutes great leadership? Is it possible to stamp someone as a good or bad leader?
A typical span of leadership is rife with highs and lows. Tell me one person who hasn't made a wrong call at least once during their tenure at the top. So when all is said and done, how do we measure the quality of leadership? Is it a tally of good versus bad decisions? Is it the memory of one brilliant idea that overshadows a number of bad ones? Profit over loss? Opinion polls?
What I believe is this; the measure of a great leader is a person that clearly presents a vision, articulates its benefits and mobilises those they represent to want to see it realised as much as they do. It's about developing and driving a collective vision. Whether they're a CEO, in government or the boss of a small business, a leader that sets a clear course and doesn't deviate from it is the mark of a quality leader. This, in my opinion, should be the barometer of successful leadership, but unfortunately I am seeing fewer examples of this synergy in action.
It frustrates that many of today's leaders aren't measuring up. Their kryptonite is an unbridled obsession with self-preservation.
Increasingly I am seeing leaders who are obviously making decisions influenced by the fear of losing their position of power. They are too focused on the short-term, making knee-jerk reactions based on populist feedback. This is an ineffective, weak and selfish approach. It clouds good judgement, ignites indecision and puts those they are responsible for on a road to nowhere.
I believe a lot of people in positions of leadership are prisoners of fear. They are fundamentally scared of getting it wrong so deviate from their vision too easily, which would suggest they never really believed in what they were trying to achieve in the first place. Share prices or opinion polls should not dictate how a leader makes decisions. This short-termism has infected so many people that we trust to run countries and drive economies which really is worrying.
If you have the ambition to lead you must realise that it's not about you anymore. It's not about protecting "number one". I'm not talking about totally disregarding one's own self-interest, but it shouldn't be the dominant force in decision making. If you clearly articulate their vision, explain the benefit and how they intend to achieve it with the necessary stakeholders, then the chances of failure are minimised. People are likely to criticise you along the way, but the worst thing to do is react and change directions halfway through the journey to meeting the collective vision unless there is an extremely good reason to do so that is backed by your team.
In essence, leadership comes down to having the courage to fail.