Leadership and the toughest decision of all

It would seem that Arsene Wenger – current Arsenal manager and a legend of the football world – and our Taoiseach Enda Kenny are faced with a similar dilemma. Cling to power and risk ruining whatever reputation they hold or accept the time has come to step down. 

The subject of leadership is vast but it is now widely accepted that emotional intelligence is an integral part of being a great leader. There are a number of definitions of emotional intelligence but the core component is self-awareness.

As noted in this Harvard University blog: “The core of high EI is self-awareness: if you don’t understand your own motivations and behaviors, it’s nearly impossible to develop an understanding of others. A lack of self-awareness can also thwart your ability to think rationally and apply technical capabilities.”

Of course, one only has to look around to see that self-awareness is a quality in short supply. It is why many people can just float through life without ever asking why there are doing what they are doing. That is a blog for another day.

The futures of Arsene Wenger and Enda Kenny got me thinking about an interesting aspect of self-awareness, the question of whether power can alter one’s self-awareness. In effect, I wonder if this quality which may have been the making of a great leader becomes eroded over time when these individuals are allowed too much control and power. Arsene Wenger dictates his own terms at Arsenal, but a leader unchecked can become a dictator.

I have huge respect for Arsene Wenger and the way he has built up Arsenal Football Club. If Arsenal were an investment fund one would buy them every time, an unrivalled consistency of top quintile performance over the last twenty years, qualifying for the Champions League every year.

However, fans have also had to suffer embarrassing exits from the Champions league year after year. Arsenal haven’t won the Premier League title since 2004 and Wenger seems incapable of instilling the winning mentality in this new breed of player he favours, to really challenge for the league. Arsene Wenger deserves respect but he must be held accountable. Can he bring the club to the next level? At a wider level, one could also question the ambitions of the Arsenal board.

Perhaps, the greatest and overlooked quality of a leader is their ability to recognise and accept that nothing is permanent. All leaders are merely caretakers, they cannot lead forever. Therefore, great leaders don’t shy away from the toughest decision of all.

In the words of singer Ben Harper: “It is so hard to do and so easy to say, but sometimes, sometimes, you just have to walk away”.

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