“Scoop people up and bring them with you” – the qualities of modern business leadership

​The debate over the kind of leadership needed in business and elsewhere has never been so fierce, probably because there is a gaping lack of it in some areas of modern life

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The attributes everyone agreed make a great leader were fixed for centuries and recognised in no-nonsense, swashbuckling, ambitious types from Alexander the Great to Rupert Murdoch. But culture and society are changing and the kind of leader we want to be or want to work for is evolving. 

The leadership topic was perfect for our recent ‘back to school’ Oystercatchers session where we brought together three panellists with diverse jobs to explore the issues. They included Sarah Harbon, General Manager of Benefit Cosmetics, Chris Hirst, Global CEO of Havas Creative and author of the book No Bullshit Leadership, and award-winning producer director James Hawes, who has made shows like Black Mirror and the dsytopian thriller Snowpiercer.

 Trying to define a leader’s role is a good start. Sarah stated: “My job is to make sure everyone in this business knows exactly what their role is in order for us to win” while James said his role on-set “is to have a creative vision but to be open to the possibility of brilliant ideas from other people.”

 The importance of building the right company culture is paramount to success and the leader’s responsibility. Chris pointed out: “Many organisations are in complete denial about their culture – but it’s the environment the leader creates in order for the team to outperform.”

 The question ‘can anyone be a leader?’ is always fascinating. Chris argues that “anyone who has people depending on them is a leader - but sometimes people don’t realise that they are in this position, even when they’re already leading.” However, not everyone wants to be a leader.”

 James suggested that there are different leadership styles to deploy depending on the personality types on the team – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ style. “I like to deploy a different leadership style depending on who I’m leading.”

 In terms of management, the panel agreed that giving people responsibility and room to fail is essential but there has to be an understanding of what this could mean for the individual. Sarah added: “If you put people in the wrong job and they fail that could be career defining for them.”

 Chris says he found a big difference in managing a UK office to jumping to a global remit where “you have to be comfortable with decisions being made at a distance from the centre.”

The need to act as a shield and protector also came to the fore. Sarah stressed that it was important for a leader to monitor and strengthen their own and their team’s resilience and that good leadership means “making sure you look at the back of the pack as well as the front - scoop people up and bring them with you.”

The characteristics expected of the modern business leaders are wide-ranging. Drive and determination are all in the mix but there’s a realisation you can’t do it on your own and an empathetic, nurturing approach combined with a will and ability to share a vision clearly will ensure you have a strong team to back you up. 


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