Excellent leadership is rare

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Only one junior manager in a hundred rates the quality of leadership in his or her organisation as high, according to research published by the Institute of Management (IM). Leadership - the challenge for all? also shows that nearly half of junior managers regard the quality of leadership in their place of work as poor.

Even chief executives and managing directors are not impressed by leadership in the UK. A mere 15 per cent of them say the quality of leadership is high. "There appears to be a widespread perception that the quality of leadership in UK organisations could be much better," says the report. The research was conducted by Demos, the think tank, among 1,500 junior, middle and senior managers throughout the UK, working for all kinds of organisations in both the private and public sectors. In-depth interviews took place with a panel of 10 "established leaders", 10 middle managers and 10 young people from the Government's Millennium Volunteers' initiative.

One "established leader" said: "There are some pretty good corporate leaders in the world. However, I have to say there are also pretty mediocre ones and my impression of leaders in the corporate world in the UK is pretty mediocre... There's still a bit too much of what I would call the old-fashioned view of what leadership is... command and control, networking with the great and the good... it depresses the hell out of me actually."

According to the survey, the single most sought-after characteristic in a leader is that he or she should be "inspiring". Fifty-five per cent of those questioned gave this as the most important attribute of leadership, but only 11 per cent say they are witnessing it at work. More than a third (36 per cent) reported that a barrier to their own career progress was an "old boys' network" - an informal, exclusive club controlling access to opportunities and resources.

Leadership - the challenge for all? notes, though, that organisations that adopt best practice in leadership development are perceived to have higher quality leadership than those that do not. "This finding is further reinforced by a positive relationship between financial turnover and the priority given to leadership development," it states. "On average, leadership development is a higher priority in organisations with increasing turnover."

The report makes a number of recommendations, including suggesting organisations should:
- Undertake a regular "leadership audit" based on an adapted version of the 360-degree assessment method, where everyone - including chief executives - should have their performance examined as a formative tool rather than a critical "snapshot"
- Identify opportunities for leadership not tied to formal management positions by giving people practice and confidence through managing specific projects with appropriate recognition and rewards
- Support their employees in developing flexible, purposeful paths to "self-managed" careers linked to overall organisational goals
- Ensure leaders themselves prioritise their own ongoing learning and personal development, and make such learning a part of the example they set to their followers

Mary Chapman, director general of the Institute of Management, said: "If the UK is to remain competitive in a fast-changing global environment, then we must find ways of enhancing the leadership potential of the young men and women who will have to face these challenges in tomorrow's world. One vital discovery is that those organisations that give a high priority to leadership development are consequently rated higher in the leadership league table themselves. A culture of consistent and systematic leadership development must therefore be considered a crucial facet of this challenge for us all."

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