There is something worrying about the struggle for mayoral rights in London, between past and present: Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone. Perhaps journalist Rachel Sylvester packaged up the problem in the neatest way when she wrote, It’s not supposed to be about you, Boris and Ken.

But, at the moment it is. It appears that Johnson and Livingstone are becoming obsessed with their egos, which goes against every precept of leadership development.

Newsnight saw the two attack one another as the arguments became personal rather than political, and reports have alleged that the pair almost came to blows recently. Here are two men, battling to secure a position of significant authority and influence, demonstrating very few characteristics of what we at The Living Leader would class as “outstanding leadership”.

Yes, there’s fire and passion in abundance, which are certainly two great attributes of a leader, when appropriately channelled. There are signs that these are two individuals who are fighting for something they believe in. The problem is that there seems to be little focus on what might be good for everyone else.

Outstanding Leadership…

The foundation of outstanding leadership, that’s sustainable and creates improved results, is truly understanding that, whilst your own performance is important, it is just as vital to be developing the potential and the leadership abilities of those around you, for the overall benefit of the organisation. There is a danger that leaders become so embroiled in their own success and achievement that they neglect the real issues in leadership – the issues that when addressed actually drive up success levels.

If we take a look at this in a business context, there could be two regional heads of sales teams in the UK – both competitive and both determined to hit target first, to gain a special incentive on offer. They spend the majority of their time looking to derail the plans of the other team, seeking opportunities to undermine them to gain personal advantage. The likely result is that their teams fail to achieve their true potential, clients are not supported as they expect and the business will probably fall behind the competition and maybe end up failing.

However, if instead these leaders were to concentrate on how they could support their teams to perform at their best they would begin to develop their abilities and increase levels of motivation. If both leaders were to be focused on winning by being the best they and their team could possibly be, the result is likely to be outstanding performance across the business, many happy clients, everyone ending up exceeding target and feeling a sense of achievement, whether or not they win the ‘prize’ this time for being first.

Johnson and Livingstone are showing certain qualities of the first scenario, and should be careful not to let personal battles and desire get in the way of leadership performance and doing the best they can possibly do for London.

It can be easy for leaders to allow personal ambition and passion to spill over. How often do you see this in your organisation? If you do, are they aware of it? Lastly, have you considered what kind of impact these people may be having on the rest of the organisation? Outstanding leaders are mindful to ensure that they focus their passion to inspire others and positively impact their leadership performance.

Emma Littmoden
Partner at Leadership Training provider The Living Leader