Has the era of the ‘Superman leader’ flown by?

Atholl Duncan, chair of the Black Isle Group

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EMPATHY, authenticity and trust are among key leadership qualities which could see the era of the ‘Superman leader’ become a by-gone one. That’s according to entrepreneurs across the UK who have shared their experiences and insights in a new podcast series. 

In Focus is a new data science and technology industry podcast that brings together industry leaders to talk about their evolving leadership styles, how they adapt and grow their businesses and how they build high-performing teams.  

Atholl Duncan, an executive coach and chair of the Black Isle Group, a London-based leadership development and performance business, said: “The big trend and the big question in leadership, which has been accelerated by about five to 10 years, is if whether this is end of the Superman leader era – the command and control leader? And did the pandemic highlight the new era of the empathetic, listening and more compassionate leader?  

“We’re moving to a different place – the hybrid workforce – but how is that going to work? The big trends in leadership that have been highlighted by the pandemic is that agile leaders have been most effective – leaders who have been able to make big decisions and big bets based on scant information. That’s been hugely important during the crisis, and leaders who are empathetic and great communicators.  

“Coming out the crisis will be the same. The speed of change has accelerated even more than before the pandemic and that is expected to continue.” 

Aleks Tomczyk co-founded Exizent, a Glasgow-based tech business that was established just months before the first COVID-19 lockdown but has since grown his team remotely from two to 33.   

A serial entrepreneur, Aleks said: “From a leadership perspective, you really want to be completely consistent and authentic. If you can do that, it generates trust and strong communication. This means the inevitable bumps along the road aren’t as big as they could be and you have a team that’s tightly committed to the purpose of the business which, in our case, is about improving the bereavement process for everyone involved. 

“One of my favourite jobs was one of my first jobs. I drove an ice cream van in the summer when I was at university. That was interesting because the owner trusted me, as an 18-year-old, with a lethal weapon in the shape of an ice cream van and sent me out on the road. That was quite a great bit of trust to put in someone.” 

Sharing a similar start-up success story is Donne Burrows who co-founded UK-based AI and data analytics company, Engine B, which has grown its team from two to 19 during the pandemic. She said: “Every business is a people business and if you’re not managing your team – recognising they may be going through different situations – then you’re failing as a leader. 

“Checking in and communicating with people is key – and not being afraid to ask how they are and how they feel. Just making people know you’re there and available – and you care. The trust that business leaders have built up during the pandemic is not going to go overnight but we have to recognise that different people want to work in different ways now and it’s how we accommodate that in a way that works for everybody.” 

The In Focus leadership podcast series is hosted by MBN Solutions, a tech and data science recruitment and resourcing specialist which was founded almost 20 years ago and has offices in Glasgow and London.  

Leaders are interviewed by the firm’s Seb Mackay who founded the Scottish Business Podcast and has interviewed CEOs about their leadership styles from struggles and lessons to commitments and diversity. 

Among other business leaders interviewed are: Elizabeth Hollinger, director of insights at Aggreko; Ross Laurie, co-founder and CEO of Visible Capital; Martin Thorn, head of data sciences at abrdn; and Gillian Docherty OBE, chief executive officer at The Data Lab.  

Individual interviews will be run fortnightly on all major podcast platforms.  

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