Do leaders understand what society wants of them?

leadership-pyramidLast week I watched endless news reports about the Hillsborough verdict and the BHS fiasco. This all follows years of major issues around honesty and integrity in government, in the NHS, in boardrooms, in charities etc. With this in mind, I must ask… do leaders understand what society wants from them?

It appears to be mayhem out there with smears, untruths, half-truths and outright dishonesty, causing a surge of unrest amongst those of us who are simply observing it all through the media. And it has to be the media, given that that is our window into ‘the world’, despite most of us not particularly believing all that the media tells us either.

One senior journalist asked, “what needs to change in the police?”. This following the long-awaited guilty finding of the police that has taken nearly 30 years to emerge, with the police involved continuing to lie up until just a few weeks ago.

Various suggestions were put forward such as a review of how police officers are promoted, whether certain individuals are prevented from seeking promotion, whether we need a new class of police officer etc. I was a bit bewildered to not hear one mention of what I think this is all about, which is… when is it ever acceptable for anyone who upholds justice in this country to lie to cover either their own backside or the backside of a colleague?

The answer is NEVER.

The same applies to leaders in the NHS, the rest of the public sector, the big corporates, the charities, local government and Westminster etc. It is NEVER acceptable to lie to protect your own backside if in doing so, you let down, undermine or fail to protect the very people you are responsible for.

How can we fudge around the issue so much? Why can’t we talk about the fact that our society has got to a stage when half truths, lies, smears, personal greed and cover ups are simply no longer acceptable? Our society wants to move past those sorts of behaviours. If I could give a pound for every person I have met in recent years who says they want to find more meaning in their life or to understand their purpose, or find out what life is all about or work out how they can give back to society and really make a difference, I would be a very rich woman. But unfortunately, some of the people in positions of power in our country are singularly failing to note this shift in society in respect of what we both want and expect of them. The reality, of course, is that they live in a Group Think* bubble and simply have no clue about, or understanding of, what the outside world is demanding.

There really should be no place in any leadership team in the UK for people who promote or protect themselves, over those they are responsible for. Power mad, ego driven leaders really should have died out with those ridiculously huge shoulder pads in the 1980’s. So why do we still we see them driving their own agenda and riding rough shod over everyone else?

The answer, of course, is given to me virtually every time I stand up to train or deliver a seminar. People, i.e. both men and women, tell me that men in leadership positions don’t like to be confronted, questioned, told off or criticised and that if you wish to change their behaviour you have to be ever so subtle about it, build up to it, work hard to protect their precious egos, never do it in public and preserve their dignity at all cost. The reality, of course, is that as a result of all this tip-toeing around there is far too little confrontation, far too little clear criticism and far too little change.

It’s all nonsense though this concern over egos and feelings, just an excuse, for lack of change. I deliver training and I know that just because someone has a fragile ego today, does not mean that we cannot develop them so that they can become more resilient and open to change. Just because they recoil today from straight talking does not mean that with the right coaching and support they cannot learn to value straight talking.

For years, women have been given training in how to communicate and behave more like men in order to pass muster in the boardroom. Whether that was the right or wrong thing to do, we do know that women learnt to change how they operated and in just the same way we can give men training in how to operate in the modern world.

But of course the reality is that the leadership ‘club’ in many organisations is not listening, does not want to listen and ranks amongst the leadership elite have very firmly closed. Change? Pah! That’s for the underlings, not us.

Little wonder that Cisco last year suggested that 40% of all current organisations will have ceased to exist in any meaningful form within 10 years. It’s a harsh world out there for organisations…change or die!

Ironically, I have been offered a few non-exec director roles in recent years. But with my desire for straight talking and real change you couldn’t pay me enough to want to sit on one of those boards being required to tip toe around people’s egos and ridiculous desire to preserve the status quo at whatever cost. My life is far too short to put up with those who endlessly preen, game play and stroke each other’s egos.

Feeling hot under the collar, got something to say? Please do leave comments and opinions below!

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