Posted by: Ornella Farrugia
on Mon 04 Mar

Welcome to the latest in a series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programme, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Following the Innovation Day in February, Dan Sly, Professional Learning Advisor at KnowledgeBrief (KB), interviewed Andy Wilkins (AW) from Cass Business School to discuss what it takes to create inspired followers.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address that your research tackles?

AW: The key business challenge is that we need to rid ourselves of the many outdated, mythical and frankly just plain wrong conceptions of leadership. Just about everything we were taught – and often still teach in business schools - about traditional management prevents us from being effective leaders in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. 

This is one of the main challenges of our time.

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

  1. Good leadership is in service to problem solving, bad leadership serves some other purpose such as their own ego: one of the questions we ask is why does leadership exist? why was leadership invented? Since thinking is the way we address problems and are creative, isn’t the ultimate purpose of leadership then in service to creative problem solving?
  2. Learning and leadership are linked: one of the remedies is to up the ante on individuals and organisations capabilities to learn as reported at the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Day in July 2018. Ultimately Performance and Performance of Leadership can be summarised as Potential minus Inhibitors: P = p – i. So, ask yourself, is one of your inhibitors that you have maybe let learning go a little? The antecedent to being willing to learn about anything – leadership included – is to accept ignorance which then paves the way for us to be willing to learn.
  3. Leadership is everyone’s business: not just those that at the top. We currently have the preposterous situation in many organisations that senior people are often referred to as the leadership and middle level people are referred to as managers and everyone else ends up with a variety of titles. So, managers are leaders in waiting? And everyone else are managers in waiting? What poppycock.
  4. Think about followership: management is bestowed on us by our ‘manager’ and leadership is bestowed on us by our ‘followers’ or as one of the folks said at the event “leadership is earned whereas management is given”. Therefore, leadership must be considered through the lens of what followers want from those they would willingly follow.


KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

AW: We look for special qualities in those we choose to follow. The research suggests that these qualities are cross cultural and enduring. What is striking is that these four qualities have consistently ranked as the top four and these same four are also ranked the top four across different countries.

These four characteristics are what are required from people who we choose to willingly follow. It’s an inconvenient truth that there is an “essential character test” that an individual must pass before others willingly follow them.

For 30+ years and across every culture, we choose to willingly follow people who are honest, competent, forward looking, and inspiring. Indeed, everyone at the Innovation Day meeting was also invited to complete the survey and the results were:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
KB Innovation DayCharacteristicGeneral Population
67%Honest85%
63%Forward-looking70%
92%Inspiring69%
58%Competent64%
75%Fair-minded35%

I am sure when you read these you are not surprised. What’s most interesting is that these 4 characteristics are so much more highly valued than the others on the list. Just to give you an idea, the 5th most valued characteristic (‘Intelligent’) is 22 percentage points below #4 ranked ‘Competent’ in the General Population.

For a list of the 20 Characteristics of Admired Leaders survey and ways to use it in your organisation, please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and we will happily share this information.

KB: What did you learn or take away from meeting with the executives in the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programmes?

AW: I noted that leadership is still a “hot” topic along with an interest in many of the new ideas shared, some of the strongest which people mentioned to me included: to think of leadership through the lens of followership; to think about values not just of the organisation but employees; to think about credibility and the 4 characteristics that make up credibility – honest, competent, forward looking, and inspiring.

Lastly, I also learned of a great new question: do honesty, competence, forward looking, and inspiring also apply to organisation’s we choose to follow?

With thanks to Andy Wilkins, Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School.

Part of a series of brief interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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