2016. Not the best year for leadership?

So many people seem glad to see the back of 2016. I can’t recall such universal condemnation of a year. It seemed to me that a common factor behind a lot of what went wrong was a lack of good leadership so I’ve decided to devote some of my time in the new year to researching what good leadership looks like and starting a conversation about how we can foster more of it. That’s the purpose of this blog.

Perhaps good leadership is one of those things that is hard to describe but you know when you see it? If so I didn’t see it when I looked at the way the UK government handled the Brexit referendum. I didn’t see it in the behaviour of those leading the Leave campaign, nor on either side of the Trump v Clinton debate. Wherever else I’ve been this year it hasn’t been any better. By the time I returned to London from Nigeria in early 2016 most people had lost faith in the new Federal Government and my father’s country Cameroon seems to be drifting into problems between the anglophones and francophones. In Spain where I like to go for holidays there hasn’t been a majority government in a year and all three countries continue to struggle economically. What would people give for someone who could unite them and take them in a more successful direction?

Good leaders can bring clarity amid ambiguity, bring people together rather than divide them with cheap slogans and provide a sense of direction that people can believe in. They lead by example, are able to focus on what’s important, are unselfish and see the bigger picture. They are good communicators (including good listeners), humble enough to learn from their mistakes and are often driven by strong values. I’m sure we all have our favourite examples – at a global level mine would include Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King – but I’ve seen good (and not so good) leadership at all levels in my own life – in business, government, community and sport for example.

As well as summarising my thinking on leadership based on my own experience I hope to exchange views with others and, especially, to learn. While I suspect that there are some enduring truths about good leadership, equally I’m sure that the context in which leaders operate is becoming more complex as a result of globalisation, diversity, technology, more widely spread knowledge and the greater expectations that all those things mean. So even good leaders will need to adapt to changing contexts.

Let’s see if we can do better in 2017!

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