Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Heathrow: a breathtaking failure of leadership?

There is an old saying (and some dispute about who coined it first): Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

This got me to wondering about leadership. Should leadership be breathtaking or breathless? It seems to me that many managers spend their time trying to be everywhere, support everyone, monitor everything and so forth. This is breathless leadership. Whilst this may give the leader a warm feeling that they are a ‘hands on’ influential leader, the chances are that others will not be as impressed.

I suspect that London Heathrow, which is currently wrapped for Christmas in very sticky snow, is full of breathless leaders right now, all seeking to make something (anything, dammit!) happen and get passengers moving again. This is commendable and necessary given the circumstances. But what were these breathless leaders doing in the Summer? Were they still running around in a similar fashion? (Latest news as I write here)

Perhaps what London Heathrow needs is a lot more breathtaking leadership. This is the kind of leadership that listens, that empowers, that connects, that plans, that waits, that assembles, that includes, that challenges, that invests, that innovates, that focuses... that inspires.

Breathtaking leadership is easy to spot. It is the kind of leadership that we have all felt once in a while when someone says or does something that makes us do a mental or real double take. We hold our breath as we think about what the person has just done. If it’s an exceptional moment of leadership, we may even forget to breathe until our body kicks in and we take short intake of breath.

My challenge for 2011: how can you make your leadership less breathless and more breathtaking?

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