Commentators in the overlapping worlds of business and politics are still reeling from the news that former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has bagged the editorship of the London Evening Standard – while having every intention of staying on as a full-time MP. And continuing his lucrative consultancy work for finance giant BlackRock.
Indeed, Osborne’s new role was the subject of a Parliamentary debate on 20 March, in which the man himself quipped – perhaps not in the best taste – that the session was held too late for news of its outcome to appear in that day’s edition of the paper.
It is well known that high-achieving leaders with significant public profiles are fond of taking board seats at more than one firm, and tend to foster broadly pluralistic relationships with the corporate landscape. But at what point does a leader’s range of roles become too many – or, at any rate, exceed reasonable expectations of how responsibilities should be divided?
“What’s paramount here is the strength of trust and support that you have mustered in all the teams that are working behind you in the various different locations,” says The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards, Kate Cooper. “There has to be a high level of trust: from them in you that you won’t disrupt or undermine their activities with a floating attention span, and from you in them that they’ll do a great job in your absence.”
At the crux of this, Cooper explains, is the ability to build relationships – “and I think that the limiting factor here is time. Working with teams to achieve that level of trust clearly requires a substantial commitment of hours to be within close contact. The staff have to learn to trust you; you have to learn to trust them – and I think when multiple jobs become too many is when you find that you don’t have the necessary time to build that quality of trust.”
Aside from trust, then, how must leaders with a cluster of jobs ensure that their roles are free from internal conflicts?
“Much has been written about the importance of aligning one’s values with those of the organisation you work for,” Cooper adds, “and I think this is a possible area of tension that may uncover conflicts of interest – because, for example, how can George Osborne be aligned to so many different sets of values? Is there a natural alignment between the various organisations that he’s representing, or the precise opposite?
“Any leader who is in that position must think very carefully about how they line up with the web of values around them, and whether that web may be in any way tangled.”
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Image of George Osborne courtesy of Twocoms, via Shutterstock