Today, as votes are being cast in London to elect the city’s mayor, and a further 10 English cities vote on whether they wish to have a mayor at all, it’s a good time to contemplate the value and role of a leader and what lessons our business leaders can take from this week’s mayoral elections.

The London mayor must have a vision that Londoners can buy into, and able to represent Londoners on a national and international platform.  But is not all about charisma and inspiring speech making. A good mayor also has to be able to roll up his or her sleeves and make a difference to the on-the-ground workings of the city: from boosting the economy to tackling crime to improving transport, housing and education. 

A business leader’s role is no less diverse, and whilst CEOs don’t have to win their employees’ vote in a literal sense, they must create and deliver on a compelling vision which motivates and engages their workforce.  In order to get the best out of their people they must act as role models, set a good example, cascade skills, and join the dots between individual teams’ and divisions’ objectives. 

Successful leadership, whether in politics or business, requires personal courage and the ability to take difficult decisions. Whilst the London mayoral elections can seem to descend into a battle for popularity, the mayor once electedwill need to balance their status as a sympathetic figurehead with this ability to make tough calls and help people see the way forward – skills needed by a good business leader.

It’s a tall order for one individual and, in reality, a business benefits more from a strong team of leaders who can amplify the impact of their main figurehead across their organisation.  The more visibly leadership roles are cascaded down a business, the more engaged employees become in the business’ vision.  In contrast, the election process can make the London mayor candidates look isolated at the top, with their supporting team largely invisible to the public eye.  It is perhaps in part this lack of transparency around their work with their ‘team’ that feeds public cynicism around the difference our political leaders will make once elected. 

The ability of a leader to build a high performing team of complementary leaders who listen, challenge and learn from each other, as well as their employees, is crucial.  In the world of business, the ideal leader would find a way to embrace the varied skills and abilities displayed by each of London’s mayoral candidates under a united vision, in order to drive forward their long term business goals.