THE BLOG

The Paradox of Leadership

03/04/2013 15:12 BST | Updated 02/06/2013 10:12 BST

Justin Welby used his first Easter sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury to warn of the dangers of investing too much faith in 'hero leaders'. As a leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, it is natural that Welby should want to set expectations about what one individual can do.

In these disrupted and ambiguous times, the qualities and characteristics which made our religious, political and business institutions successful in the past will not necessarily make them successful in the future. When the stakes are so high, and when 'having the answers' is not what we can expect of, or need from, our modern leaders, individuals required to adopt the mantle of leadership today face a daunting prospect.

So if our leaders can't depend on their power as experts, what should we expect of them? We see that, as we become less reliant on what leaders know, we look to other attributes of their leadership. We look instead to character - do we trust this person's judgement; do they operate with integrity? Their character either builds confidence and trust, or it erodes it. Trust is fundamental to an organisation's performance, and a cornerstone of good leadership. Trust reduces the cost of doing business; in high-trust environments, teams are more effective and people work better, harder and feel more positive about their work. As Tony Hall takes the helm of the BBC today, he faces an enormous challenge in re-building trust both internally and externally.

The ideal of the 'conquering hero' leader does not serve us or our organisations well these days. In a celebrity culture, it is not helpful to default to charisma as the measure of good leadership: 'charisma' can too easily be a synonym for a self-serving agenda and a willingness to believe one's own publicity. But just as our leaders are a lightning rod for the bad news their leadership represents, so too do they need to represent the future. And this takes courage in uncertain times where people are anxious.

People want to know what their leaders 'stand for'. This is why the subject of newly appointed Sunderland manager, Paulo Di Canio, and his past political comments has provoked such a fierce debate about whether he is 'fit' to be the figure head of a premier league club.

Our leaders need to inspire trust and give people confidence in the hope of tomorrow, in the road ahead even though it is a challenging one that is full of unforeseen obstacles. In a world where there are no longer any straight lines, do we trust this person - our leader - to navigate the way ahead wisely? Leaders must balance their status as the representative of the organisation with the ability to understand their own limitations, play to their strengths and build a strong supportive team around them. No one person can embody all skills, and nobody is ever too experienced to continue learning and taking advice: the role of any leader is to set a purpose and direction, and to build a community that is able and willing to pursue that purpose. It sounds easy, but is hard to do. Good leadership is at the heart of our social and economic prosperity, and it has never been more important to understand it and develop it well.