by Julian Goldsmith

John Adair on the changing face of management

Feb 16, 2011
CareersIT Leadership

John Adair is recognised as one of the leading authorities on applying the concept of leadership to the management role.

He has published over 40 books on the subject and is chair of leadership studies United Nations System Staff College in Turin.

He has recently republished a collection of six of his classic works called Lexicon of Leadership. It includes the books How to Grow Leaders, The Inspirational Leader, Leadership and Motivation, Not Bosses but Leaders, Strategic Leadership and the international best-seller The Leadership of Muhammad, which was shortlisted for the Chartered Mananagement Institute Management Book of the Year.

With such a body of thought about leadership behind him, CIO UK asked him some questions how he thought expectations of leaders in the workplace have changed.

CIO: Since you began your research into the subject of leadership, how have expectations in leadership style changed?

John Adair:There has been a revolution in current thinking, moving rapidly from the concept of management to the idea of business leadership. It’s a global movement and an irreversible one. It includes the move away from command and control and hierarchy to a much freer idea of leadership.

The big driver for this is change. Change throws up a need for leaders and leadership throws up change. If you’re not going anywhere, don’t bother with leadership.

There is also a very strong technological aspect to the drive for change – people are much better educated and therefore more aware of what they expect of their leaders.

CIO: How far does the military concepts of leadership and organisation compare with those in the corporate world?

JA:Strictly speaking, the transfer either way is limited, but what we have come to know is that there is a generic role of leader, which relates to the three circles [the Action Oriented Leadership model developed by Adair encompassing the three focuses of task, group and individual] and their importance to the key qualities and knowledge of a leader.

The required knowledge might vary, but the generic role is constant, so it’s possible to transfer ideas about leadership from the military to the industrial world and vice versa.

CIO: Who is your leadership guru?

JA: In terms of thinkers, I would go back to the greatest teachers on leadership, Xenophon and Confucius. Xenophon was an Athenian and a student of Socrates. He was the first author on the subjects of leadership and management. At the age of 26 he was a famous general, participating in a great expedition into Persia.

His teachings were followed by great classical leaders such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Scipio and Hannibal.

Confucious was a contemporary of Socrates and is still recognised as a great teacher on the principles of leadership. His teachings are thought of as supporting authority and hierarchy, but he also believed that human nature is basically good and their leaders should also be good. He taught that leaders should not be corrupt, that they should have integrity.

CIO: If you weren’t a prolific author on leadership, what books on the subject would you recommend to CIOs?

JA: The Art of Leadership by Ordway Tead. It’s out of print, unfortunately.

I can’t think of any contemporary authors on leadership that I would recommend. There are one or two good books on particular leaders – great explorers, like Ernest Shackleton.

I wouldn’t recommend any of the books coming out of the US at the moment. US writers have saturated the market with books on the subject and it’s all hopelessly intellectually confused. They can’t see the wood for the trees. The latest thought is always the truest one and it’s all a bit superficial.

For some time the rest of the world has been drawing together ideas on leadership from all sources, whereas the American effort is purely a bit of local subculture. Thinking there is very insular and there is no interest in ideas about leadership from other parts of the world.

CIO: How much do concepts of what is a good leader in different cultures clash with each other?

JA: Intellectually, it’s a global world. There is an effort to put together a global view of leadership. What is exciting is that when you scratch the surface, we all have in-built in our genes a similar expectation of what is good leadership. You can see that now in Egypt where people are expressing their views about the leadership there.

Humanity is coming to a stage where it has a much clearer idea of what it means to be a good leader. There is no-one in any position, including CIOs that can’t improve their leadership skills.

And most importantly, you have to recognise you aren’t a leader until your position has been ratified by the people you are supposed to lead.

The Lexicon of Leadership is published by Kogan Page. It will be available in March at a price of £39.99