What has gone wrong with our Leaders? The issue of Followership?

As I write one of the world’s greatest ever leaders lies critically ill. Nelson Mandela is rightly recognized as a leadership giant – a man who put his needs behind those of an entire nation.. His sense of purpose, self sacrifice and dedication to his people was immense. As a result he commands the respect of not just South Africans but the entire world.

At the same time the latest revelations about the NHS and the Care Commission, Law Firms and the Metropolitan Police are yet more indicators that something has gone seriously wrong with the UK’s leadership cadre. Be it retired Army generals touting their services to arms companies, bankers fixing critical interest rates or selling dodgy policies and products, newspaper editors paying incentives to secure private information or politicians offering their services to lobby on behalf of vested interest groups for a fee – the whole picture is one of leadership malaise, decay and in some cases sheer abuse of power. How many people have been truly shocked by the level of abuse perpetrated by South Yorkshire Police against the Hillsborough families.

At the same time we get a picture of many leaders securing massive rewards and pension payoffs – witness the BBC of late and some leaders from the NHS. Yet when the highly suspect and disturbing issues are brought to light we are greeted with a chorus of denials and lame “I know nothing!” excuses. Denial and a plea of ignorance is now the default position of many UK leaders. If they are so ignorant as to what is really happening in their organisations then why are they paid so much?

Witness the testimony of leaders from Google, Starbucks, Amazon and the big accounting firms on taxation before the House of Commons Select Committee. All perfectly legal explanations but in most cases looking decidedly shifty and uneasy in the face of perfectly legitimate questions. Just like the bankers seemingly totally unaware of a tide of public distaste swirling around them. Insulated and cocooned from reality by an army of subservient staff and obsequious followers they clearly have no idea!

What I find interesting is that many of these institutions would have spent a small fortune on leadership training often with highly reputable institutions. Legal gagging orders coupled with generous pay-offs or early retirement plans seem to be an accepted way to shut people up. The question is where has this almost systemic level of leadership corrosion and decay come from and can it halted?

At Falconbury we often talk about Followership and whether leaders can get people to follow them. At the moment we clearly have a real leadership crisis in the UK and there is little for people to follow. What will happen when we finally have to say a very sad goodbye to Nelson Mandela? Who can we look up to then?

Published on Jun 26, 2013 by Mark Thomas