We live in an age of diminished leadership. Formerly trusted institutions have been damaged by
bad, absent or criminal leaders. Who can look at national politics, global brands, social media
giants, or even the church without wincing at their failure to lead? While the global outpouring
of grief in 2013 after the death of Nelson Mandela was a tribute to a truly great world leader,
didn’t its excesses betray our fear that he may have been the last one?
However, separate from the public domain there is a new kind of leader working very hard to
adapt to new conditions in the twenty-first century. Our study into modern leadership has
found that good leaders are alive and well. We find that today’s most successful leaders are
more likely to be leading from the side than the front. They are leader-coaches bringing the best
out of their teams. And as their observations about themselves reveal, they are highly selfaware and self-critical.
We have had conversations with two panels of 50 leaders from different large, UK-based
organisations across the private, public and third sectors over seven years between 2014 and
2021. The conclusions we originally drew in 2015 did not change – until the pandemic hit.
We have updated our original reports (this one and its companion-piece LEADING FROM
WITHIN) but the impact of the pandemic was so great we researched and wrote a separate
piece LEADING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC, working with our digital partner Granite 5, focused
on membership organisations, but representative of all.
Our three reports build on each other to form a single, definitive, coherent set of insights and
conclusions about what good leadership looks like today and will be like in the future.
This is the management summary of its six sections:
1. Born to Lead
Some are born with innate leadership qualities that are recognised early on.
Others discover latent abilities much later. These are the timeless qualities
of ambition, drive, clarity of purpose and the ability to take people with you.
2. Learning to Lead
Leaders learn from direct experience of good and bad leadership. Someone
or something will have helped to spark or improve on natural ability. Leaders
are inspired by example, ideas, education – and luck.
3. Nurturing Leadership
Instead of identifying hero-leaders to emulate today’s leaders admire
qualities of leadership that are more widely shared. They shape the best
model for their organisations and nurture leadership capabilities in others.
4. The Courage to be Me
Good leaders have the courage to be themselves, and are comfortable with
building their own, personalised models of good leadership. They are the
complete embodiment of the organisation’s values and their own.
5. The Telescope and The Microscope
Good leaders look through a telescope at the outside world and translate it
into their organisations. Conversely, employees and a technologically-enabled
world can study and access the CEO as if through a microscope.
6. Leading From The Side
Using innate gifts. Learning to lead. Nurturing leadership. Self-awareness.
Humility. Resilience. Embodying what you believe in. Talking openly about
values-laden things. Bringing in the outside world. Being open to scrutiny.
This is Leading From The Side