All Journeys Begin with Practical Leadership

By Owain Smolović Jones, Director of the Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures academic centre of excellence, the Open University Business School.
  • Ethics
  • Big Thinking
  • Personal Purpose

Responsible business is already making a huge impact on our way of life, and the reality is that we all have the power to provide positive leadership, if we are equipped with the right knowledge.

In business, leadership is sometimes confused with management, personality and operational issues. In fact, the best leadership is a collection of practices.

It would be a mistake for organisations to perpetuate problems with more management when it is actually leadership that is missing in the first place; it’s like sticking a plaster over an open wound.

My starting point is always, ‘Think of the power you have – and could have.’ We are trained to think of ourselves as isolated individuals, so we’re unaware of the power we can leverage by working together in impactful ways. Taking on vested interests, the status quo, can feel daunting, but pooling the knowledge, power and inspiration can make all the difference.


Exemplar leadership inspires people and opens spaces to unknown territories. Inspiration doesn’t have to be taken from your typical middle-aged white man, instead, look at those who take responsibility and make changes in their everyday lives.


Excellent examples include Black Lives Matter. It’s easy for movements to fall into a trap of creating a storm on social media and not keep momentum, but BLM has kept pace, stayed relevant and become a voice that has to be heard. It’s shown us that leadership is not about important leaders dominating decision making and handing out favours, but ordinary people realising their collective power to make a difference and doing so through rigorous, patient organising to analyse where its power lies and how it could be put to better use. As a result, BLM has forced businesses to rethink their processes and start conversations which should have happened decades ago.

"Each one of us has the ability to practise leadership successfully"

Ukraine’s president is challenging preconceptions about where leaders come from and made himself a rallying point for his nation’s defiance in the face of Russia’s invasion. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has a background as a comic actor but has stood up to the Russian President. It helps that he’s a great communicator.  He presents himself to his people, and the rest of the world, as a dignified counterpoint to what The Spectator calls “snarling, rambling rants emanating from the Kremlin”.

Each one of us has the ability to practise leadership successfully. Be open and alive to the fact you won’t have the answer to every problem or understand everyone’s perspective, but by bringing in diversity, you will ensure no one will be left behind.

It never hurts to remember that businesses do not exist in closed-off eco systems. We are all a part of this world. Timpson, the shoe repair and key cutting retailer, is a great example. Its employment programme for ex-offenders encourages us to think differently about justice and rehabilitation using a classic leadership frame of challenging assumptions about what an organisation can achieve; and of course that those who have committed criminal offences in the past can also be fantastic employees and people – we’re all humans and we all make mistakes.

Finally, in a world dominated by social media with news at our fingertips, we can no longer think of leadership as a practice between humans, instead, technology needs to be taken into account. People have the ability to watch every move figureheads and organisations make and it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking channels like Twitter and Instagram are shortcuts to strong leadership, but it’s not about who gets the most retweets or likes, it’s about digging in during the hard times and seeing something through from start to finish.


Join Owain in the session Leading a Better Way – Tuesday 22nd at 12pm.


The Good Business Festival is passionately non-exclusive. It’s not about what you do or who you know. It’s not about agreeing on everything all of the time. It’s about everyone working towards a better world – no matter where you’re starting from.

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