Back in 1879, Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the boastful piece about the Modern General from the Pirates of Penzance, They could never imagine that it would become one of their most well-known pieces that would be copied and parodied in generations to come. The satire in which the Major-General knows that his knowledge on warfare is completely out of date, he understands that his knowledge of history, mathematics and the arts can still teach us things today, especially in the area of leadership.

The truth is that leadership has come on a long way and unfortunately some leaders are still stuck in the dark ages.  There are many examples; leaders that believe they only have to express an idea and it is done, leaders that operate a virtual dictatorship and believe that their employees are there to follow their leaders and that customers know what is good for them. Mainly these leaders work through a multi-layer of underlings who channel commands down layers and truths up the layers. This finishes with everyone having a distorted view of the organisation.

In the modern business world, is dictatorship out? What has taken its place? There is still a need for leaders to be a figurehead, so that organisations can move forward and to act as a promoter for change and ideas. Leaders should lead by empowerment and not dictatorship and push for a culture of innovation where employees are heartened to take initiative and make customers feel valued.

Is empowerment old hat? The crisis that the economy has suffered has activated a change of leadership behaviour in many organisations which can have negative affects at enabling empowerment. Levels of authority have been reduced, Less risks are being taken in regards to decision making and procedure and policy based decisions are much more common.

Today’s business world is not the same as before. Similarly to the Modern Major-General in the fact that he had to learn to adapt to modern war tactics, modern day business today has had to adapt. Every organisation has access to technology today. The differentiator is how something is done, not what is the end product. This firmly put the ball in the customer’s court and what their choice and preference is.  So the organisation adopts a culture of innovation which puts exceptional service at the forefront of business.

Like any culture change, if the leader is not present with a good strategy that has been well formulated and not driving change forward. Then success won’t happen it will stagnate and stop.  So it really is important the leader is a strong character and must have brilliant communication skills to push the message out in a way that it will be understood and adapted. Not an easy task. We live in a multi-cultural, multi-generational society and the leader needs to be able to communicate, engage and inspire across the board.  The leader also has to be a success when it comes to managing “business as usual”, which includes maintaining continuous improvements, consistency and also looking into the future which needs experimentation, encouragement of flexibility and being able to respond and change to radical shifts.

Leading a path towards innovation culture is not rocket science, but clear leadership and faith is needed.  As you empower employees to take initiative in working together, to be proactive, prepare for the occasional failure but make sure that you can turn a failure into a positive and into a learning experience instead of blame.  This will take a unique understanding of people.

 This is written by Derek Bishop who is a Director at Culture Consultancy

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