By Andrew Lester, Managing Partner, Carr-Michael Consulting

Leadership is often described as a lonely place. There can only be one leader. Consequently a lot of business owners and directors experience and talk about the issue of being the “one” who has to lead. Their experience contrasts considerably with being a manager lower down a company when there were other managers they could talk to and share issues. As leaders, leaders often expect to be the solvers of problems, the one the company expects to provide direction and answers to all the questions thrown at the business.

Whilst this picture of leadership is common it is rapidly changing. It’s changing for a number of key reasons. Firstly the market is moving too fast for good old fashioned experience and market knowledge to be sufficient by itself. Secondly expectations of what constitutes “leadership” are shifting: leaders influence far more and direct far less than previously. Thirdly leadership in 2011 has to take a far broader role than ever before, managing a larger number of diverse relationships across sectors as well as leading the business. And perhaps most tellingly of all, as the market remains in a significant state of flux, leadership has to remain flexible and focus on influence rather than dogma.

As such, in addition to leadership not needing to be a lonely place, it positively must not be, as the market morphs from its pre-recession to post recession state. Specifically, this is not just about generating a great network of business contacts or joining one of the many successful Chief Executives groups. It’s also about using your full network of friends, family and acquaintances to pick up on new ideas, to share experiences and to share concerns.

Leaders however often find it difficult to open up to friends and industry contacts — sometimes for very good reason! They may be concerned about confidentiality or believe that opening up may in some way damage their reputation of “being in control”. It is usually this precise point that makes leadership a lonely place for some. Avoiding the trap requires leaders to recognise that power does not follow leadership. Power follows influence, and influence generates leadership. Consequently as 2011 increasingly pushes businesses into cost effective collaborative ventures, the leaders for the new economy will emerge as those who are very confident in getting input from a wide variety of sources. Leadership styles are moving quickly from “closed” or lonely, to open and collaborative. Leadership confidence will come from an ability to mine great information and advice from a wide group of respected colleagues. This will drive influence and results. If leadership is lonely for you, you will not be an effective leader much longer.

Please feel free to comment by contacting me: andrewlester@carr-michael.com - Andrew Lester is Managing Partner of Carr-Michael Consulting, specialists in growth management and business performance improvement.

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