Sunday, February 5, 2012

What can we learn from the spin-out leaders?

One of the privileges of my work with Stepping Out is the exposure it gives me to a wide variety of leaders. This has been instructive. Spin-outs almost always rely on charismatic leaders to get them off the ground. These people are invariably viewed as 'mavericks' and are seldom popular figures in their organisations. And few of them, at least early on, have the technical skills to organise a spin-out nor the political skills to play the committee game in their organisation.

But what they lack in business or political finesse, they tend to make up for in drive, tenacity and inspiration to others. Which is fortunate because this is probably what matters a lot more, certainly early on. Where we often come in is adding the skill-sets and finding the operators who can champion the mavericks' cause with politicians and committees.

What can be learned about these types of leader? I think they underline to me the vital need for all leaders to be durable, passionate and communicative. The very best ones can also do the technical and political stuff too, but I would say that these skills become more important at later stage in the life of an organisation.

The others - the softer skills - have, I think, taken on a bigger order of importance in the 20 years I have been in the workforce, as society has become more communication-focussed. The 'feminisation' of management culture also has had a welcome role to play. A top leader used to be what Michael Lewis in 'The Big Short' memorably called a 'Big Swinging Dick' - an alpha male who could bully and beat his way to success.

Now such people are viewed as throwbacks and any aspiring leader is evaluated far more in terms of how they involve and include others, how well they create a productive and positive culture and how they conduct themselves in the day to day relationships.

It is a trend I think I welcome.

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