The Burden of Leadership


February 28th, 2014

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Leaders are the focus of the majority of organisational change programmes from cultural change to performance management, but is this right?  Do we have an unrealistic expectation and idealised notion of leadership?  Are we holding leaders account for things that they can’t control?   This debate formed part of the discussion yesterday at Roffey Park’s launch of the 2014 Management Agenda at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, London.  After a short presentation of the research findings, attendees were asked to reflect on the ethical climate in their organisations.  Did it ring true for them that staff in their organisation don’t trust their leaders to take action if they report misconduct?  50 per cent of 1,800 managers surveyed in Roffey’s research believed this to be the case.  One participant reflected that organisational structures were not designed to facilitate the reporting of misconduct, let alone positively encouraging whistleblowing through explicit rewarding of behaviour.  Another participant reflected that organisations need to focus on aligning their external reputation with their internal cultures, noting that the external and internal projections of organisations are now completely transparent.

Roffey Park’s research highlighted that despite organisations consistently investing in leadership development, 10 per cent report leadership skills as bad or very bad.  Influencing, coaching, change and political intelligence skills are still in short supply.  The question was raised, are we too often promoting functional experts to leadership roles when they don’t have the raw materials to be effective and expecting leadership development programmes to plug the gap?  This provoked a discussion about leadership development programmes.  Are some programmes in danger of placing insufficient focus on the context, system and team within which the leader operates?  The world of work is not black or white, said Panel Member Diane Moody, and we need our leaders to have a sufficient moral compass to make ethical judgements and decisions when required.  It was suggested that providing space and time for leaders to reflect, to stop doing and see things differently, was fundamental to a leader’s development.  The view was expressed that ultimately today’s experience of work is highly individualised and this is what drives ethical and leadership behaviour.  This view was contrasted with the reflection that subversive behaviour is often a key driver for change.  A Roffey Park consultant, David Cleeton-Watkins, posed the question, perhaps the most effective leaders are those who are able to subvert the status-quo in order to promote new ways of working.

Roffey Park’s Management Agenda 2014 is available to download free here.


Julia-Wellbelove     Julia Wellbelove

     Senior Researcher