In 1979, John Adair became the world’s first University Professor of Leadership Studies, and he has subsequently been recognised by, among others, the United Nations, quote, “for his outstanding research and contribution in the field of leadership.” He is therefore worth understanding, and I have looked to him for inspiration as I reflect on functional leadership.
Of course, the Sultanate of Oman has been incredibly fortunate to have a leader like His Majesty Sultan Qaboos for more than four decades who has been able to not only recognise the needs of a nation, but to lead its renaissance, its re-emergence, in global terms, and lead it to the threshold of global prominence, making the most of its culture and traditions, while relentlessly pushing towards embracing modernisation, technology, and the future. All of this, His Majesty the Sultan has achieved with a small nation, with few people, and in a region that much of the world sees only as turbulent and fearsome, and Oman’s place and burgeoning reputation stands as testament to his vision and awareness.
My focus though, lies in organisational and institutional leadership, where His Majesty must be an inspiration. How, then, does one assess organisational leadership?
Adair writes that while awareness is imperative, understanding the requirements of leadership is essential, neither of these personal traits, or qualities, is measurable, or has any generally accepted meaning, thus making the task of assessment of leadership capability extremely challenging.
He says we could defer to the age-old perception that, ‘leaders are born, not made,’ yet this precludes personal, professional and leadership development, which is the basis of all education, through all time. Surely, we have greater perception, and value, of ourselves? W H Auden wrote that, “To know if something is one’s vocation, watch their eyes: A cook making sauce, a surgeon incising, a clerk billing, all wear the rapt expression of those who forget themselves in what they do.”
Their passion and enthusiasm are not measurable, but obvious. So, if you lead, what do your team see in your face, and if you are led, what do you see in your leader’s face?
So, you have an organisational leadership role. At which level doesn’t matter, but you must understand these generic requirements of that role as being imperative:
• Enthusiasm, from the ancient Greek, ‘possessed by God,’ was interpreted by Shakespeare, in Henry IV, as “the lifeblood of our enterprise.”
• Integrity. In other words, that which makes others trust you, or, as Oliver Cromwell wrote, “Subtlety may deceive, but integrity never will!” Rudyard Kipling too referred, in ‘If’ most colourfully. Read it and see.
• Tough but fair, because leadership is not a popularity contest. Confucius wrote, “The best leaders are easy to serve, and difficult to please.” This clarity of need though, must not be confused with diffidence, a lack of care.
• Humanity, as exemplified in the Chinese proverb that you can, “Live with cold rice and cold tea, but not cold words.” There is little more hurtful or divisive than a cutting, hurtful remark, and nothing more inspirational than empathy.
• Finally, humility is, in leaders, an ability to accept their mistakes and errors of judgement. Nobody is perfect, and the arrogance to think otherwise, and that we know all, is the mark of a failure.
Adair explains that leadership is not a right, and there is an old African saying which can be applied well to the workplace: “You are not born a leader, you become one.” Understanding and recognising the difference, and knowing that every day your team, your staff and your workers, look to you for genuine leadership qualities, not decisions, because in the end, your decisions may be flawed, but not your qualities.