Leadership: why Greg Dyke is like the Wizard of Oz

In an interview with Management Today this week, former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke said the key to building up a high degree of trust and loyalty among employees is to make sure that they say the right things about you to others:

‘Leadership is about the stories that are told about you – both positive and negative’, he said. ‘You’ll be judged by those stories more than anything you say or write, and people will need to like what they hear about you. The most effective leaders are the ones who are loved by their staff. Always think as a leader: how will this be seen?’

His words echo those of the Wizard of Oz, who said ‘ A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others’.

In all but the smallest companies, it’s not possible for the CEO to develop a personal relationship with all employees, so instead they rely on internal communication (as well the informal networks of office rumours and gossip).

But is it really the job of communicators to present their Chief Exec as a loveable kind of guy? Or does that risk leading us, David Brent-like, to confuse popularity with success?

David Ferrabee cautions against what he calls the ‘Wizard of Oz approach’: ‘If you do put employees in front of the CEO a lot, they might find out he/she is not actually the Great and Powerful Oz, but just a WC Fields lookalike’.

And therein lies the problem. It’s not a leader’s job to be liked; it’s their job to lead. Most CEOs are affable kind of people. Most are good communciators – they need to be so to have reached that position. But it doesn’t follow that they have to be the kind of person colleagues would be happy to go for a beer with.

In the introduction to the recent MacLeod Report on Employee Engagement, Peter Mandelson says ‘organisations that truly engage and inspire their employees produce world class levels of innovation’.

What inspires people is encouraging innovation and ideas in the workplace that are focused on competitive advantage or shared vision. That means engaging with colleagues and managers and bringing them along with you on a journey, communicating honestly and clearly.

Arguably, building a personal mythology for a leader could stifle rather than encourage innovation. After all, how many colleagues would be willing to challenge the Great and Powerful Oz?

Dyke’s job as the leader of a quasi-public sector organisation in the midst of bitter battle with senior government figures meant he slipped easily into the role of staunch defender of his organisation and his staff.

But few other leaders are in such a position. Most answer to shareholders, or in the public sector, elected leaders, so simply presenting yourself as likeable is not a viable leadership communication strategy.

So while Greg Dyke inspired extraordinary loyalty from his staff, his strategy’s not goingto hold water for many others. Other leaders wishing to develop their own organisational profile need to communicate in the way that suits their organisation, their objectives, and their own leadership communication style.

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