HBS: Who will lead… and who will follow?

There’s been a lot of talk about leadership at Harvard Business School over the past couple of days. HBS exists to “educate leaders who make a difference in the world”. There is even a banner hanging up on one of the buildings with the words “Who will lead?” on it.

What happens if a leader turns round and finds that there is no-one behind him or her? What sort of leader is that?

And yet only two people that I have heard have discussed the question of followers from the main platform – both (is this a coincidence?) women.

Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University, was the first speaker to raise the question of followers this morning. And she added a crucial rider to HBS’s declared mission statement: its alumni should make a difference in the world and for the world.

Orit Gadiesh, head of Bain Consulting, spoke at length about the mutual relationship that genuine leaders establish with their followers.  ”Willing followers are confident that their leaders are on the right path,” she said. And good leaders can be confident that they will be followed. Effective leaders “create that relationship of mutual confidence.”

You don’t have to be female to be a good leader, but maybe it helps.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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