John Adair is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant influences on management and leadership development in the world. He studied history at Cambridge University and holds higher degrees from the Universities of Oxford and London.
He became the world's first Professor of Leadership Studies at the University of Surrey and is internationally known as a consultant. He is the author of many respected books on management and leadership.
Interview with John Adair
“Knowledge is the foundation of Leadership as authority flows to the one who knows!”
Interview with John Adair
The first professor of Leadership Studies in the World by Marian Stirbescu – Axioma
October 3rd 2014
On the 20th of November 2014, John Adair will join, as keynote speaker, the most important event on leadership in Romania: “How to grow leaders – Romania”. The event will take place at the Novotel Hotel and it will be an exclusive opportunity for around 250 HR managers, “C” level executives and leaders from the business community to embark on a learning experience about the fundamental truths of developing leadership knowledge. We asked several questions and John was kind enough to answer them for us.
Q: What was your first experience of Romania and Romanian people?
A: My visit to Bucharest on 19th – 21th November will be the first time I have been in your country, and my first opportunity to discuss with Romanian leaders the immensely important subject of ‘good leadership and leadership for good’. I am greatly looking forward to sharing this time with you.
Q: What advice would you give to someone assuming a leadership position for the first time?
A: The first rule is to take charge. Then make it clear that there will be changes, but not until you have fully understood the present business situation and listened to the suggestions of each person who has ideas or suggestions to make. Show yourself to be confident even if you don’t always feel it inside. Remember that authority flows to the one who knows. Knowledge is the foundation of leadership.
With some ACL training you will not fail for lack of understanding what is required of you on the role of leader. You do not have to be excellent as a leader-that will come in time-just very good in relation to the others in the group. Remember your own Romanian proverb, ‘In tara orbilor, cel cu un ochi este imparat’.
Q: From country to country, from region to region, is there any cultural specificity in terms of leadership development programs?
A: Yes, there are local differences – even the songs of same species birds slightly vary in different regions of a large country. But there is a universal or generic body of knowledge about leadership and leadership development.
Two of my recent books are entitled ‘The Leadership of Muhammad’ and ‘Confucius on Leadership’, but in both you will find the same global practical wisdom about the art of leading others. Master that art and you will be able to lead international teams.
Q: You have written more than 40 books about strategic leadership, leadership skills, decision-making, motivation and personal success. What motivated you to write books about how to become a leader?
A: A book is a very personal thing. When I write a book it is as if I am talking to you personally, on a one-to-one basis. So my books supplement addresses to audiences.
Q: Who are the leaders that have inspired your works? What have you found important to these leaders?
A: One of the blessings of the vocation I have pursued is that I have met some great leaders in all fields of human enterprise. I have always followed the advice of a Chinese proverb: ‘Pluck a feather from every passing goose but follow no one absolutely’
Incidentally, like you I have also encountered some bad leaders- let us call them misleaders or non-leaders. But they also gave me some feathers-what not to do, what not to be.
Q: What are the skills and abilities one has to excel in order to be a great leader?
A: They are simple: the skills and abilities required to enable a working group or organization to achieve its task, to be held together as a team, and to get the best out of each individual for the common good.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important decisions one has to make as a leader at team level or at organization level?
A: There is a close connection between leadership and decision making, but that doesn’t mean that the leaders have to take all the decisions themselves. The art is to involve others in all the vital decisions which affect success in the business, decisions about the way in which the group or organization can best work together, and major decisions concerning the career development of individuals.
Q: What are the fundamentals for being a successful business leader in the 21st century?
A: Being in the right business for you, hard work, good leadership skills, integrity, innovation, financial prudence and some luck. Though with regard to luck, remember that ‘Fortune favours the prepared mind’.
Q: What role motivating people plays in day by day activities of a leader?
A: As for motivation, remember that it is very hard to motivate people who do not want to come with you on the journey. It is easier if you choose people who are motivated already. You can train a tortoise to climb a tree but it is better to hire a squirrel!
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge leaders are facing today?
A: The biggest challenge facing leaders today? How to bring about with others real, solid and desirable change.
Q: What is one mistake you witness leaders are making more frequently than others?
A: The biggest mistakes leaders make are- in no order of magnitude: Arrogance (forgetting that you are not a divine being who knows it all), Complacency (failing to realize that life never allows you to rest upon your oars), and lastly, Complexity – making everything too complicated and bureaucratic. As Einstein – one of my heroes said, ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more simple’. And of course I should add lack of integrity, but I suppose that is a symptom of arrogance, thinking that one is above the truth.
Q: Name one behavior that you have seen to derail most leaders’ careers?
A: A behavior that certainly derails a person from ever becoming a true leader-whatever other material success they may find in life- is treating other people as if they are inferiors, lacking in worth as persons as well as professionals. If a non-leader in a role that calls for leadership treats others without respect you can be sure that they will find that they are not respected in return.
Leaders do not rely upon fear. Fear breeds alienation and -eventually- hate. The histories of both our countries supply examples.
Q: Can someone be a good leader, but not a good manager?
A: Management at its best is simply a form of leadership, so I cannot envisage a good manager who is not a leader. Can you? And all good leaders in any field always value and practice good administration ( and management in the more specific sense of the effective and efficient use of all resources at one’s disposal).
Q: What are the key steps you would take if you would be appointed as CEO in hard economic times to turn around a company?
A: First, discover the realities of your situation. Secondly, make a plan to take you from where you are now to where you want to be in three years time. Thirdly, talk to your people so that they become partners with you in making it happen.
Q: And to the last, what would you recommend to young mangers who aspire to become future leaders in their organization?
A: It is a good thing to aspire to be a leader in your business, field or profession. And aspire is the right word in English because it means that you are aiming high, not for place, position , rank, money, or privilege, but for something that is essentially good and noble.
Q: What types of participants benefit most from your talks?
Those who will get most benefit from my sessions are those who aspire to excellence in leadership at all three levels: team, operational and strategic. I should especially welcome political leaders, those charged with bringing out the greatness of Romania.
Please accept my best wishes for your own personal journey of leadership. I look forward to meeting you in November. – John Adair
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