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What can we do about the crisis of leadership? (If there is one.)

Commentators from the New York Times to your local community Facebook page are arguing that there is a crisis of leadership across politics, society and around the wicked problems that face the world, like climate change and the growing terror threat. There appears to be a loss of confidence in leaders globally. But does that mean there is a crisis of leadership?

But David Pich, CE of IML has a different perspective. While there maybe a dearth of effective leaders on the global stage, he says, on the ground, people do leadership everyday, and do it well.

“There is a tendency to say there’s a crisis of leadership, but I don’t think there is. I see people every day, on the ground doing leadership. It might be talking to someone who is running a business in Towoomba or on the Sunshine Coast, but I find listening to their stories rewarding.”


We know a good leader when we see one

The World Economic Forum’s Survey on the Global Agenda (2015) say there is a lack of confidence, at least in global leaders, with 86% of respondents pointing to a leadership crisis. According to the survey, we’d know a good leader if we saw one. Effective leaders, people believe, mediate, listen and include the opinions of others before making a decision; they execute effectively, build teams and delegate. And they have the ability to remain positive when faced with adversity.

Leadership organisations around the world, including the World Economic Forum and the Institute of Managers and Leaders believe that strong, effective, ethical leadership has an impact beyond any immediate organisation and that it is a crucial part of delivering a better, fairer world for all. But are these member organisations stepping up to the challenge and is there anything more they can do?

It starts with vision. At the World Economic Forum, the vision is: “to improve the state of the world.” Thethe Institute of Managers and Leaders has recently relaunched its vision as “Better leaders, better managers, for a better society” echoing the Forum’s global perspective with a local focus on supporting leadership impact to improve not simply business and career performance, but the communities leaders operate in.

“Membership of IML is about aspiration,” says Pich. “It’s the vision people link to. They associate with the direction the organisation is going in and the values the organisation espouses. Your average member of IML, would believe fundamentally in better managers, better leaders, better society.”


Leadership is a thing

US companies alone spent $13.6 billion on leadership development in 2012 according to Bersin (by Deloitte). Leadership is a thing. Mike Hanley, Head of Digital at the World Economic Forum says that while leadership is 3% of the content, it drives 10% of the traffic across all the Forum’s platforms.

“Everybody is a leader in their own life. Everybody is hungry to know how they can get more out of their life, take more control, how they appear in their leadership role. All of this is really important to all of us.”

The hunger for leadership insight and information, according to Hanley, is less about a crisis in leadership, and more a response to the fast moving, complex world we live in:

“It’s about people’s hunger for certainty,” he says. “People are hungry for someone to say ‘I can help you. If you follow me you will be more comfortable. I will protect you.’ The crisis is that leaders may say that they know what’s going on, but we know they don’t. Nobody does.”


Supporting ethical, impactful leadership

How, then, can leadership organisations like IML and WEF support leaders to deliver the impact for all?

The past six years have seen an enormous opening up of WEF events, insights and content, and their dominance in social media channels. The Forum publishes up to 50 articles a day and runs social media channels in several languages. The idea is to share information and to get people on the same page.

“It parallels a change in the nature of leadership,” says Hanley. While Forum members remain leadership level, “we don’t work in hierarchical organisations any more and there is a recognition that leadership is about getting people moving in the same direction.”

“In order to change the world in a positive way you have to get all the stakeholders around the world around the same table and you have to have a holistic view to make sustained positive change.”

Both organisations recognise the power of appropriate content to get people to that table.

“The problem with ‘leadership’ is it can seem too big. Delivering impact is about taking a big hairy issue and breaking it into bits so people can connect to the bits of the issue, and communicating widely as possible,” says Pich. “The content, learning and knowledge that comes out of an event like The Outstanding Leaders Series recently on the Gold Coast is sensational. And it is no more or less relevant in Sydney, Geneva, Tokyo.” The challenge for IML is to capture that knowledge and share it broadly.

“You have to chip away at it and express simple ideas and principles in ways listeners are willing to consume,” says Hanley. “Its not about chasing likes or popularity, it’s about being in the place where we can communicate ideas that are important to our constituents.”

The shared message between both leadership organisations is that the state of the world can be improved, and strong, informed and ethical leadership is part of the solution.

Listen to the full conversation between Mike Hanley and David Pich on Insight Edge, the leadership podcast from the Institute of Managers and Leaders. Subscribe on iTunes or listen via the web.

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