Regardless of what you think about Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, it would be hard to argue that he is universally popular within in the Labour party at the moment. Some have said that this will affect his leadership but this suggestion has been largely rebuked. After all, does it really matter that his colleagues don’t like him? It’s the public that holds the vast majority of the vote and history is littered with leaders who were highly unpopular but got the job done. However, times have changed and if a leader being liked didn’t matter in the past, it increasingly does now. But what are the reasons behind this shift?
It’s impossible to deny that typical, Machiavellian leadership has worked in the past. You only need to look at figures like the Duke of Wellington or Jack Welch, the former General Electric boss to see that. Both were highly successful leaders but were renowned for their abrasive and often unpopular attitudes towards their workers. More recently, it would be hard to argue that staff made to work around the clock by Steve Jobs were his biggest fans, or that the footballers under the control of Sir Alex Ferguson were too fond of him, but they were respected and got results, impressive ones. But while this approach may have worked in the past, the workforce and its motivators and drivers have changed and now being liked can be considered an important factor in being a successful leader.
The arrival and impact of Generation Y or the ‘Millennials’ is certainly one reason behind this shift. These individuals are driven by different factors to their predecessors and if they feel like they work for a leader who they don’t like, they’re likely to just move onto another organisation. Amongst other factors, this group isn’t as interested in staying with one business for their entire career and will quite readily up sticks and move on if they feel something isn’t right. They’re also considerably more demanding, conscientiousness and supposedly more ethically minded than previous generations meaning that they’re much more likely to leave a firm if they’re working under someone they don’t like.
And it’s not just staff retention that could be affected by having an unlikeable leader in place. In difficult times, change needs to be driven from the top down and staff need to buy in to whatever initiatives are put in place. This process becomes considerably more challenging if employees don’t feel motivated by their leader because they don’t like them. You’re considerably more likely to want to perform for someone you respect and like rather than someone you can recognise is doing a difficult job but have no time for. That’s not to say that employees will go out of their way to sabotage their boss just because they don’t like them, but they are considerably less likely to perform to the best of their ability.
While the tough love approach might have worked in the boardroom or on the battlefield in the past, it’s not as effective anymore and those looking to find many Welch-esque leaders in the modern business world are going to be searching for some time. Nowadays, the workforce – particularly the more junior end – responds to charismatic leaders who they can both like and respect. Having one of these factors is no longer enough. No firm wants to be headed up by Tim-nice-but-dim just as no one wants to be ordered around by the despot who gets results but makes everyone’s lives unbearable. Even Machiavelli said “It would be best to be both loved and feared.”
So while Jeremy Corbyn has made impressive headway in turning the heads of the electorate, he still has some way to go to get the Labour party onside if he wants to be a truly effective leader.