A very good friend and ex-client of mine runs a highly successful information technology service in the South of England and his private-sector customers include many Times Top 100 companies.
We often exchange opinions and I recently asked his views on leadership, because I have always been impressed with his commitment to "people development"
He believes leadership is all about bringing out the best in the firm's 1800 employees. "We have a very informal, non-hierarchical structure," he says. "The task of our leaders is not simply to issue orders but to act as role models in providing our customers with what they want in terms of teamwork, friendliness, delivery and, in general, supplying a top-class service." Many of those who join the company are former customers. "We first of all put them through a programme which helps them to understand what we are trying to do, then a management team shows them how our ideas are put into practice."
When trying to identify future leaders, he and his management colleagues adopt the premise that anyone possessing sufficient motivation can become a leader. "But obviously some are better than others, and the best are likely to end up as managing directors," he says.
"I believe that leadership is something that can be taught, but that's not a reason for trying to teach everybody everything. We need good team players, and the leaders are those who enable them to give off their best."
The ultimate test of a leader, he believes, is whether the individual can generate trust in others.
"We are not one of those companies where self-interest is dominant," he says.
He would not comment on the general quality of British management, often portrayed in a negative light in the media. "I don't know whether we are ahead of other firms in our thinking, but we are certainly doing something different. I don't know anywhere else where the staff can talk to the boss in the frank and informal way that they do here. I go around meeting each member of the staff individually twice a year to brief them on what's going on and on our plans for the future. Because they know they are not going to be shot for speaking their minds, they'll all have a go at it. It's not just one-way communication."
I find it very difficult to comprehend reporting to a leader I couldn't trust - it has to be one of the key characteristics - doesn't it?