Where Were You 10 Years Ago? Nigel Girling 

2011 – ah, it seems like yesterday… and a thousand years ago, in roughly equal measure.

It was still the fairly early years of The National Centre for Strategic Leadership and I was its first CEO. I met Nita and David in a coffee bar (in London, of course. Everything important has to happen in London…) to see what I could do to help the embryonic EFS movement and was asked to be one of the first ‘Gurus’ in the ‘Guru Group’. I was passionate about anything that would raise the standards of leaders & leadership, so I jumped at the chance.

I’m still jumping now and, if anything, even more rabidly driven to raise leadership capabilities in the UK and, these days, internationally. Even now, as I approach retirement at the speed of a downhill slalom skier, I spend long periods of every day ranting at the TV, raving at comments made by leaders, politicians and the media, scoffing at articles I read. Its really quite exhausting.

I sometimes wish I cared far less and could be more insouciant, cool, sanguine and chilled.

Fat chance. It still desperately matters to me. I am more than ever, striving to shift the dial on the way we lead – the way we still so often appear to view leadership as something rooted in personality and charisma, charm and dynamism. Still, more than 30 years after the creation of professional standards for leadership, less than 20% of our leaders are actually professionally qualified to be leaders – promoted because they’ve been very good at something else and into a job that they busk their way through in the way they’ve seen others do it.

Of course, I know that there are many, many really good ones. If you are one of them, I commend you and hope you’ll coach and mentor others to be great leaders too. But there are still way too many of the other sort – you only have to read the research into stress and mental health challenges, the frequent cases of bullying and narcissism, the painfully slow progress on diversity and inclusion, to know that we are a long way from where we need to be.

In 2011, I had great hopes that a shift was starting to happen, in the wake of the economic meltdown many things were being re-evaluated to find a better way. Some found it. Many did not and we continued to reward and promote the tough, the focused, the target-driven and the disciples of spreadsheet management – at the expense of the humane, the servant leaders, the emotionally intelligent, the empathetic and the nurturers.

So here we are in 2021, having gone through a cataclysmic shift in the way we work and live that makes the economic meltdown look like a small hiccup. Maybe this will be the catalyst we need to create a more engaging culture, a more humane focus, a recognition that we need leadership not just management, the drive to build a diverse, inclusive, innovative boardroom, leadership team and workplace. In 2011 that was my dream and my goal.

Nothing’s changed.

Nigel Girling CMgr CCMI FInstLM FRSA

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