Some researchers prefer to move the focus away from the leader altogether and to examine instead what makes others prepared to follow these individuals. In 1988, an important article published in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “In Praise of Followers” began to shift attention away from the machismo of leadership to the less glamorous side of the same equation – the role of ‘followership’.
What the advocates of followership recognized was that to become an effective leader, most people first had to learn how to be good followers. With few exceptions, this is as true of the corporate world as it is of military and political leaders. Aristotle noted “He who has never learnt to obey cannot be a good commander.”
More than ever, today, business executives have to operate as both leader and follower in the daily rounds of their job. Those who study leadership begin to take more interest in the ‘psychological contract’ between leader and followers. In other words, they began to ask what makes people prepared to follow one leader and unwilling to follow another.
These ideas are now changing both the way we think about leadership and the style of our leaders. This is in tune with other social and organizational developments, including the move to more participative management and the rise of industrial democracy.
Other new ideas are also gaining ground. For example, only now is the notion of ‘emotional intelligence’ becoming widely understood. For the leaders of the future, it is likely to be as important as a high IQ.
In his ground-breaking 1996 book, “Emotional Intelligence”, the American psychologist Daniel Goleman explored the issue of personal and professional effectiveness. He argued that in a business world too often obsessed by cold analysis, the emotional climate is more important to the success of a leader than previously recognized. At senior levels, ‘emotional intelligence’, rather than ‘rational intelligence’, marks out the true leader – “The qualities of leadership and the quality of the heart are largely the same”. This may explain why someone like Branson, who twice failed his elementary mathematics exam, can make a better leader than someone with a degree from Harvard Business School. Branson’s ‘emotional intelligence’ – his ‘people radar’ – is more keenly developed.
According to Goleman, studies of outstanding performers in organisations show that about two thirds of the abilities, that set star performers apart in the leadership stakes, are based on emotional intelligence. Only a third of the skills that matter relate to raw intelligence (as measured by IQ) and technical expertise.
“Our emotions are hardwired into our being” Goleman explained. “The very architecture of the brain gives feelings priority over thought.”
There is a sign in Harvard’s rat lab that says: “Rats under carefully controlled conditions will do any damned thing they please”. The same is true of human beings – leaders ignore emotions at their perils.
Most important of all, the role of leaders in developing the next generation has too often been neglected. If we are to grow as a society, this must be the priority for the future. As Sir Adrian Cadbury, the former Head of Cadbury Schweppes has observed: “Good leaders grow people, bad leaders stunt them. Good leaders serve their followers, bad leaders enslave them.”