Chris Moerdyk

Is leadership a gift or can it be taught?

2012-11-19 07:53

Chris Moerdyk

I had a really interesting conversation with myself the other day. It was all about leadership and those qualities that don't appear on CVs but which, in my opinion, are vitally important in separating pseudo leaders from real leaders.

I have found, for example, that smiling is something that never seems to appear on any CV yet it is so incredibly important. I have found that even if times are tough, having a chairman walk into a boardroom looking as though he's just had a boil lanced on his arse or reversed over his wife's puppy, tends to get things off to a difficult start.

Having said that, President Zuma smiles and giggles a lot which does not prove that smiling and giggling are not good leadership traits, but just that leadership is about doing a heck of a lot else besides just smiling and giggling.

I find too, that many financial directors tend to get up to start presenting reviews or forecasts by doing impressions of undertakers walking up the church aisle ahead of a coffin.

Walk among staff

Smiling at work has the same effect as a quiet, confident smile from an aircraft crew member as the plane buckets its way through a storm is somewhat far more re-assuring for passengers than seeing cabin crew lurching about with faces even more thunderous than the thunderclouds outside.

True leaders I believe, also make it a habit to walk among their staff, not to check up on whether they are doing their jobs, but to talk to them about their families and share as joke or two.

There is no doubt that more employees will lay down their lives for a leader who smiles, than one who appears to be continually suspicious of the motives of his minions.

I believe a chairman can be tough without being a tyrant.

Entertaining leaders

It is the same with meetings. Nobody actually enjoys meetings except for perhaps a few insecure cretins who feel it incumbent upon themselves to gather the clans about them for an hour or two of ear-bashing or intimidation.

And talking about meetings by the way, any leader who cannot finish a meeting in 90 minutes is either pathetically bad at handling meetings or totally unprepared.

Humour has an enormous role to play in business. It can defuse tension, it can bring perspective to issues but most of all it has a proven biological and psychological effect on participants making them not only more attentive but a lot more motivated as well.

A leader who can be a little entertaining at the right time at the right place gains far more respect and attention when he or she has to lay down the law.

Board chairmen, I believe, have to primarily ensure the integrity of the meeting that it remains relevant, that board members don't go off at time wasting tangents and that agendas as well as corporate governance are rigorously adhered to.

Board chairmen need to be fair referees and when they impart wisdom, to do so with finesse and not like a dictatorial bull in a china shop.

Humour an effective tool

I know there are exceptions to every rule but a typical, hugely successful entrepreneur does not necessarily make for a good board chairman.

Business should be enjoyable. As Winston Churchill said, once you start enjoying your job you will never have to work again.

I am not suggesting for a minute that board chairmen should be stand-up comics but I am convinced that humour is a bona-fide and extremely effective business tool.

And talking of using humour and its value in meetings, I was chatting to a friend of mine who is a technology addict and tries hard to justify the use of every gadget he has in terms of it being able to make business more efficient.

He said he had found a wonderful use for an iPad in EXCO meetings he chairs. His problem was that it was quite a large group and almost all of the participants had the habit of interrupting and flying off at a tangent.

He purchased an iPad application with all manner of sound effects, so when someone in the meeting said something positive he just pushed the applause or fanfare button on his iPad.

But, best of all he said, was that the application had a variety of fart noises which he would use when someone interrupted or said something really silly.

Smiles

Not only did this make meetings a lot more enjoyable but participants thought really long and hard about interrupting.

So, while true leadership does not necessarily mean having access to the iFlatulator iPad app, it does, in my book, certainly involve humour and smiles

I must admit however, that the only thing that really annoys me is when board minutes are prepared and I am referred to as "chairperson".

The word "chairman" has nothing to do with gender with the "man" part referring to the Latin for "manus" the hand.  "Chairperson" is contrived political correctness and deserving of a resounding fart sound whenever it is used.     

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