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Log on to Leadership PDF Print E-mail
Written by B2B   
21 Sep 2007
The Northern Leadership Academy (NLA) is a pioneering partnership between the business and management schools of the Universities of Lancaster, Leeds and Liverpool.  Its overarching mission, to be achieved through more and better leadership in the region, is to boost Northern productivity, helping close the multi-billion economic gap between the North and the average for the rest of England. One of many deliverable themes for the NLA was the development of a leadership portal.  B2B International, with expertise in the academic sector, was commissioned to determine the content and functionality of this leadership portal and evaluate the final product.   Research began in October 2006, looking at what online resources were currently available and conducting focus groups with individuals of varying levels of leadership who worked in the private, public, community and voluntary sectors, and with business/MBA students.  The portal went live in spring this year with further refinement now due.  B2B is currently undertaking an e-survey on the website to test views/reactions. The NLA’s core objective is the promotion of distributed leadership across all sectors and industries in the North.  This is based on a principle of collaborative working and shared responsibility, as opposed to focussing on the traits, behaviour and actions of a sole or single leader making key commercial and strategic decisions in isolation.  The new paradigm means that the heroic, natural-born leader gives way to distributed leadership with collective responsibility.  It leads to high levels of personal responsibility and performance, encourages learning by doing and innovation whilst enabling the followers to feel empowered and involved.

Varying styles of leadership


B2B’s research shows marked differences in leadership across sectors.  In the corporate/ private world, leadership development was found to be central – a leader was essential to develop staff to deliver profit to shareholders.  In the public sector, leaders were more compliant, managing services for the public good and busy with direction and responsibility.  A leader within the SME sector was a true manager as he or she had to survive in a competitive environment and needed to control costs and gain business.  A more reluctant leader emerged in the voluntary sector, keen to help others develop and be seen as inclusive, collaborative and democratic. Online resources for leadershipResearch into what was already available online as an aid to leaders showed millions of references to leadership but very few sites targeted specifically at leadership issues, more were linked to management.  Hence, sites for SMEs gave advice on setting up businesses, strengthening entrepreneurship, and business health checks; the voluntary sector focussed on bespoke training and shared leadership; the public sector concentrated on individual development programmes and downloading publications; whilst education and knowledge were areas of interest for the corporate market, with references to business gurus and leading by peer example. Key words and phrases used on the various sites reflected these differences.  Website buzz words amongst SMEs were development, entrepreneur, business planning and advice; for corporates it was challenge, innovative, best practice and cutting edge; words such as innovative, community and good practice were common on public sector sites; and the voluntary sector used development, support, improve and understand. The layout and aesthetics of websites also varied: conservative and professional for the private sector, plain and dull for SMEs, happy and inviting for the voluntary sector, and old fashioned and cluttered for the public sector. Having researched what was out there online, focus groups were undertaken to gauge interest in online resources: people from corporates showed most interest in using online resources on leadership; in the public sector there was a tendency to use formal academic programmes for leadership training; the concept of leadership appears newer to the voluntary sector; SMEs are least likely to engage with leadership issues as they are more focussed on management and keeping up-to-date with regulations; students see a strong role for web resources though they expect sophisticated use of technology.   What people want from an online leadership siteAgain, the various groups wanted different things.  Corporates wanted interaction and information, SMEs wanted advice and updates, the public sector wanted a bit of everything, the voluntary sector wanted experience and sharing, and students needed a site to be active and interesting. Forum respondents were asked what would make them use an online resource:
  • functionality – such that the site was easy to use, site search is essential, good navigation links, personalisation
  • format – must be eye-catching, good colour (red and blue), little advertising, meaningful graphics
  • interactivity – technology to create two-way communication and social networking, for younger users alternative delivery sources were thought important (e-learning, online mentoring, webinars)
 All this feedback collected by B2B was able to provide decision-making information for the NLA who then advised designers of the online portal so as to be able to embrace these opinions and also respond to the different requirements. The futureThe research indicated what an ‘ideal’ site should include: a home page that was generic, with easy navigation, personalised login options, search facility, tabulated index, what’s new section and student site.  The site content should include news, case studies, experts and community information, provide training and development resources, and discuss work and industry related issues such as regulation.  Thoughts on the site in the future focussed on a platform portal with self-selecting sector options.  Ideas include:
  • more bespoke solutions tailored to the needs of specific users or sectors
  • leadership linked to self development, using current thinking
  • more interactivity using technology to aid learning; networking; mentoring
  • a facility to manage resources appropriate to the users’ needs such as sector sites by self selection
  • regularly updated site, backed up by a credible institution which addresses leadership






B2B director Carol-Ann Morgan is manager of the research.  She believes that the NLA site is the only one that addresses all business/industry sectors and can also engage all levels of management from shop floor to boardroom.  “This site pulls all the different elements together as one complete resource.  It is easy to use, when and where the individual wants.  It allows ideas, best practice, information and leadership advice to be shared for the benefit of all and it encourages individual and cross-sector networking.  In fact, it does what it set out to do, ie promote distributed leadership.“
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