March 2009


As Alan Sugar demonstrates each year on our TV screens, even the most promising candidates can sometimes fail to deliver. To identify true potential it must be diligently assessed and a number of factors carefully weighed against each other. But how easy is it to spot truly great leaders while they are still ‘in the making’. Fancy trying?

Imagine you are operating at Board level for a major global organisation. Facing a challenging worldwide situation, with a serious threat of major conflict looming after a projected period of economic recession, you must appoint a new CEO. The best-connected headhunters have been working on your behalf, and have provided two candidate profiles. But which will you select for interview?

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Lists of all-time great leaders are probably fatuous: a little something to appeal to our love of lists and our love of competitions. A new biography of Genghis Khan argues that we might be overlooking an important aspect of leadership when we do indulge ourselves in voting for our favourites – and other newspaper pages suggest that we might overlook it in the rest of our working lives too. The missing element? Levels of leadership.

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Life can be so unexpected. Two topics – neither at first glance what might be considered ‘contemporary’ or ‘cutting edge’ – seem to be acquiring a lot of column (and screen) inches: morality and Darwin. Darwin’s sudden high profile is, of course, due to the 200th anniversary of his birth and the 150th of the publication of On the Origin of the Species. But morality? Why is this suddenly such a topic?

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The perplexing myth somehow persists that ‘work’ is something that happens in one corner and ‘learning’ happens in the other – like two boxers who never actually engage. Yet getting learning and work to embrace each other should surely be seen as critical? Would you vote for comparative ignorance as a strategy for success in the most challenging year in decades?

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After the runaway success of his previous two offerings, Tipping Point and Blink, it is easy to predict a similar trajectory for Gladwell’s most recent book. Nearly four months after publication in hardback, it is still – at time of writing – number 108 in the chart of best-selling books at Amazon.co.uk: in America, it’s still in the top ten.

For a book that draws on academic social research to explore the factors behind human success stories, that’s a success story in itself: after all, this is not a book that will be serialised on a satellite channel featuring two pop-stars and an actor anytime soon. But does it explain its own success? (more…)

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