She’ll be right mate

The morning before this issue of Human Resources went to press, I attended a briefing on leadership development. Present were a handful of HR professionals and consultants

The morning before this issue of Human Resources went to press, I attended a briefing on leadership development. Present were a handful of HR professionals and consultants.

The event gave a chance to discuss issues of leadership in a relaxed forum. One of the main topics of interest was the difference between corporate myth and reality.

Listening to what was said, it was all fairly motherhood stuff as to why leadership training is vital for organisations. The complex, unpredictable nature of modern society means that no one individual is really capable of dealing with all of the issues an organisation faces. A quick exercise saw the group quickly fill up a whiteboard with qualities an effective leader would need in order to manage an organisation. Everyone agreed that leadership was not one person’s job, but the job of an organisation’s culture to engender a sense of leadership in all employees.

Despite this, we are still constantly provided with a view of the hero leader. The man (yes, I know it’s sexist language, but it’s true) at the helm, single-handedly delivering salvation to the organisation.

The group I was with was quick to apportion at least part of the blame at the feet of the media. Certainly, as journalists we are filters of what we hear and see. Also, the difference between what we are told and reality are sometimes two completely separate things. In particular the stories about what companies are doing wrong never see the light of day. Understandably, people are reluctant to risk their own financial security for the sake of a story. Marketing and media people are so closely aligned to perceived shareholder value, it’s lucky if we hear off the record comments. So the story is that everything is rosy and the way we do things is quite alright. So we have a record success story or a pedestrian story – what would you try and sell to a reader?

The result, of course, is that people join organisations under the impression that where they are joining is a good company. When the reality turns out to be the reverse, then they leave, making recruiters rich, or they simply clock off on the job, keeping their head down, but not performing as they might if they were properly motivated.

The reality is that for all the talk, we have done very little to achieve genuine leadership so often discussed, yet we don’t admit this fact. The group I was with were clearly frustrated with the whole situation. So what do we do? No answer was readily forthcoming.

After I left and was on my way back to the office, I walked past a construction site. Two men stood over a blueprint clearly arguing. I was 100 metres from them but I clearly heard what one of them said: “Don’t come to me with your f___ing theories. I never said that. If you want to be a f___ing engineer, then go back to f___ing university.”

You be the judge of the need for leadership.

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