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There is no magic formula for leadership

Our Leaders in London 2007 speaker, Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, the marketing, advertising and media group, is profiled in the new book by our 2008 Leaders in London speaker Steve Tappin, author of The Secrets of CEOs, which was reviewed in the FT last week.

Martin Sorrell told Tappin and his co-author Andrew Cave:

“No-one has any magic formula” for leadership.

“Everyone obfuscates and makes it too sophisticated. Having a clear purpose, vison and strategy, having the right team and having them aligned to what’s important,” is the closest you can get to a formula for a successful leader, particularly a successful CEO, says Sorrell.

Richard Donkin of the FT says that although Sorrell says there is no magic formula, his (Sorrell’s) own formula for corporate leadership is still important. Sorrell likens himself “to a referee, a sort of consolidator or co-operator” who can bring all the parts of the company to work together,” says Donkin.

Tappin argues that the “idea of the solitary figure who tries to think through everything is no longer appropriate for complex international business.” Absolutely.

I also like this, from Steve Tappin’s book, where he quotes Archie Norman who, along with Allan Leighton and a close knit leadership team, turned around ASDA’s fortunes to move up from the bottom of the big four supermarkets in the UK to replace Sainsbury’s in coming (at the time – Sainsbury’s have since fought back, with the help of CEO Justin King, who was part of Norman’s ASDA leadership team) as second in the UK supermarket league table:

“I like businesses where people feel able

to shout at each other, in a professional way, of course.”

– Archie Norman

If your relationships with other leaders and the rest of the organization are strong enough to have ‘fierce conversations’ (see the book of the same name), based on passion for the business (not on ego and trying to get your own way) then you have a robust, healthy corporate climate that’s well-placed to make the right decisions in the current tough trading environment.

See a few posts ago for more on Steve Tappin and his core idea of the need to ‘build a fellowship’ of leaders. And you can learn from Steve direct at Leaders in London 2008.

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