Allan, leadership is commonly associated with military and political figures and has generated a business school industry. I wonder what your thoughts are of the role of leadership in business.
Well I think that it’s pretty paramount, you know, leaders create things, and one of the things they have to create is a thing called followship. Because a test of the leader is how many people follow, not I tick a lot of boxes leaders. I think the military thing is very interesting. It is, you know, I’m very driven at the moment by some of the army guys, and there’s a couple of things they’ve been talking to me about recently which I think really gel.
This first thing, they have this thing about planning, and they have no plan survives the first encounter, and therefore one of the things they’ve really had to develop with all of their leaders is this ability to adjust as you go. You know, and I think this thought of a big skill in leadership is to be able to adjust as you go, particularly in the current environment where things are pretty tough. You know imagine in the army you go out, you’re on a patrol and from the minute you start something goes wrong. If you continue doing what you were doing, then you’re going to have a problem.
So I just think that this thing about all plans always suffer a bit from the first encounter, and secondly this adjust as you go is a really clever piece of thinking that I think applies very much to business today and leaders today outside of military and politicians.
Traditional and charismatic forms of leadership are often distinguished. What types do you think are relevant to your business?
I think there’s, you know, I always talk about someone like Bill Gates, who in many ways is not a great charismatic guy, but is clearly has other skills which enable people to follow him. And then you’ve got people who, you know, Obama would be another example, people who are very, very charismatic. So I don’t think you have to be one thing or the other; I think you have to have this basic thing which is having respect for people. And it’s easy to talk about but it’s a bit harder to do, and I always say my mum always used to say to me, it’s only if you give respect, one day you may earn it. This thought that you just keep going and one day you’re going to earn respect doesn’t work like that.
So I think charismatic or not charismatic, you know, respect plays a very big part in it, and probably today even more so than it’s done in the past.
And finally, there’s an argument that the low proportion of female executives in the UK is a failure of business leadership, I wonder what your views on that argument are.
I mean I think it’s true to an extent. I mean when I started off at Mars, a long time ago, 25, 30 years ago, the two brothers who own it sat me in a room and they said we’ll tell you something now, you know, this was in 1978, that you must never forget, and they said remember this: 50% of the brains in the world are female, and brains have no colour, and your job is just to get more brains than anybody else, it’s not about headcount, it’s about brain count, get more brains. And I think that’s the way to think about it. You know, I’m very anti-quotas, and as are most of the really successful business women I know, because they don’t think that is the solution.
I think actually in the UK on boards now there’s more of a focus on bringing women into the boards than there’s ever been, the issue is pipeline, and therefore a lot of the work that I’m focused on at the moment is really with the big companies building the pipeline of talent that will enable, you know, over the next five or ten years more people to be available of the right calibre to be able to go on boards.
So I think we’re going through an evolutionary phase and I think in ten years’ time we’ll look back and say yeah okay I think we’ve made some real progress there. But it’s not as easy as let’s just do it, as you’ve got to have the pipeline, you’ve got to have the talent, and it’s there, it’s just beginning to emerge.
Allan Leighton, thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
Allan Leighton shared his view on leadership, and bringing more women into the boardroom, after a recording of The Bottom Line.