Today’s changed world needs more personal leadership

26 September 2018 | By Chris Blythe

Where has today’s generation of leaders gone and could a change in leadership style be required to bring them to the fore? asks Chris Blythe

In preparing a presentation for a university recently I was asked to reflect on how the world of work has changed since I started. If you think this is going to be about the good old days forget it, because they were not that good. Having said that, I would wonder how we would cope now with some of the things that happened then.

In the energy crisis of the 1970s mid-week football matches were played at lunchtime to save on floodlights, often coinciding with when factories shut down for the half-day. Television channels closed early so people would not be using electricity, so it was early nights for all.

Imagine the hysteria if that happened today. All the things we take for granted now were a privilege then.

The other major difference was the public awareness of leaders. Industry leaders and trade union leaders were better known, and the issues affecting the country were also well known. All of this with just a couple of TV channels, a small number of BBC radio stations and the newspapers.

I can still remember names like Terry Beckett, the chairman of Ford and later CBI director general, or Michael Edwardes at British Leyland, Vic Feather and Len Murray of the TUC, and Jack Jones from the Transport and General Workers Union.  These were household names, playing out their dramas daily on the news.

Today, it is hard to come up with an obvious industry leader. In fact, it is hard to come up with a leader in any capacity of daily life, including politics. Without looking it up I can only think of one name from our own Construction Leadership Council, Ann Bentley, who wrote in the last issue of CM.

With the surround sound of social media, we seem to know less about anything important and more about what’s not. With 24-hour news coverage, we just zone out and ignore it. In any case, there seems to be very little fact being reported, but lots of opinion masquerading as fact.

I suppose the biggest difference for me is the sense of entitlement that is prevalent today. That used to be restricted to a few rich kids. For the rest of us it was about aspiration and if you tried, you could move on. Now people want to be moving on before they have even started, and the total of their current affairs knowledge is what is happening in the Big Brother house and on Love Island. 

So leadership has to become more personal now, not waiting for someone else to do it. For those joining the industry there are opportunities and while it can be a tough industry, the way forward is through thousands of small acts of leadership wrapped in kindness.

Chris Blythe is chief executive of the CIOB


I have spent a lifetime watching University Challenge which was the same back then as it is today. Young men and young women contestants and Captains, offering an abundance of leadership on the programme and potential for the future.

They did not look or sound like the sort back then who would enjoy watching love island and they do not look or sound like that today.

Some things do not change even the channel people watch with remote television.

Steve, 2 October 2018

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