On May 1st 2008, almost 5.5 million registered voters will decide who will be the next mayor of London. But what does it take to be a good leader? Dominic Mahony, director at international performance development consultancy Lane4 comments:
The next mayor must have the ability to articulate a compelling vision for London – particularly in the build up to the 2012 Olympics. He must be able to communicate his goals to his varied audiences which include business leaders, the local community, local politicians, borough councils, Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police Authority, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and the London Development Agency. If he has the skills to articulate his vision, these diverse groups will buy into his ideas and also feel part of the vision.
Having buy-in will help the next mayor to build a grand coalition of support. After all, a leader can’t do everything. If he focuses on making things happen on time and on budget, he’d be a manager not a leader. By building clusters of people who share common interests, goals can be achieved as part of a team. When Justin King joined Sainsbury’s as chief executive he built a coalition around the theme of ‘Making Sainsburys Great Again’ by engaging the companies 1,000 key managers. By working together to understand the dilemmas they faced, they were able to support one another and work towards addressing their wider business issues.
In addition to connecting with his team, the new Mayor must also have the emotional intelligence to connect with his followers (the people). A good example of emotional intelligence was demonstrated by Sir Winston Churchill on a visit to the East End of London during the early days of the blitz. Locals saw him crying amongst the ruins and realised that he really cared about the plight of Londoners and believed that he would do everything he could to improve their living conditions.
Not surprising, the number one quality of a leader that comes out in every poll is trust. It’s a difficult quality for political leaders (in particular) to attain but the new mayor must outline his policies and have the willpower to stay committed to his programme of change.
Having a paradoxical mixture of willpower and humility is also a sign of a good leader. These qualities (as outlined by Jim Collins in the Harvard Business Review) suggests that a strong leader stands firm by his beliefs. But if anything goes wrong he’ll deal with the problem and he won’t blame his team. Rather if things go well and according to plan then the praise goes to his team rather than himself. This is clearly a difficult model to follow as many leadership campaigns tend to focus on the individual, their family, education background etc. So when they enjoy success it tends to be regarded as individual rather than team success.
A good leader also has the ability to cut through the complexity to get to the heart of the matter. He has the ability to absorb and handle pressure and uncertainty rather than pass it onto his team. There are no hiding places for leaders, high expectations and visibility come with the job. However, a good leader is someone who understands this and appreciates that anxiety and pressure are an inevitable part of the role. Many great leaders, by the very nature of their success, are people who thrive under pressure and can actually make leadership look easy. They possess the ability to respond to challenges in a positive way. They also maintain focus on the things that matter by shutting out any distractions or doubts and concentrating on the job in hand. Leaders without this skill are vulnerable to stress and their performance can become constrained as they focus on fire-fighting.
Finally, the mayor must have the ability to strike the right balance between internal and external stakeholders and current and future objectives for London. This is a challenge as demonstrated by the need for the 2012 Olympics has to be a success in the moment and at the same time a future launch pad for London as the number one city in the world. The mayor’s job is to ensure both, for the benefit of the City and its citizens.