Dr. Paul Ballman is Head of Leadership Development at Vodafone UK and the author of Red Pill: The Truth About Leadership.
1. What are your key areas of interest and research?
I am principally a practitioner in the
area of leadership excellence, so that tends to drive my research interest.
Much of my consulting work involves psychologically profiling candidates for the
leadership roles in the world’s biggest businesses. However, this then leads to
coaching them in place, helping them build the right team around them and
eventually the right organisation. Inevitably, understanding what it takes to
be a great leader involves also understanding what it takes to create a great
2. What are the major challenges in your field?
continual change and complexity of organisations makes identifying what makes
for effectiveness extremely hard. Just when you think that you have found the
formula for success, a competitor copies it, a legislation changes or a market
collapses. True, there are some basic leadership principles that appear to
increase your chances of doing well, but they don’t guarantee results and, even
worse, sometimes people who ignore them still do well. The net result of this
is that countless books have been written that study the greatest leaders and
organisations of our time, only to find out that these shining examples had
feet of clay.
3. What is your top management tip?
Be the leader that you want to be
and be it brilliantly. Don’t try and be different to your own beliefs because
you think you have to in order to get on. You won’t do it well and it really is
no guarantee of success. Instead try being an ever better version of yourself
using large amounts of feedback.
4. What would you single out as a career highlight?
Over a period of years I built up a global network of offices in the psychological consultancy that I led. To set them up and running required lots
of travel, finding brilliant people and giving them the coaching and confidence
to lead their own businesses. We would connect regularly in an international
video-conference. I clearly remember conducting one such conference for the
Asia-Pacific region at 5 am UK time, sat in my kitchen. I had been due to miss
the meeting so one of the office leads was prepped to lead the session and,
feeling groggy, I let him do so even though I was there in the end. Through the whole
meeting I didn’t need to say a word - they were thriving without me.
5. If you had not chosen this career path, what would you have become?
Well, I didn’t really choose this career
path, somehow it seemed to choose me and I am very glad it did. This field
allows me to express myself with originality, so any alternative would have to
allow that. As a boy I loved dance and idolised Gene Kelly, so maybe I would
have put in the hours of practice required to make a career of that.
6. What are your personal interests outside of work?
With sons aged 7 and 9, inevitably
much of it revolves around them. As they get older it is wonderful to develop
common interests with them and I was delighted when the Rugby World Cup sparked
their interest. If I ever do have a moment alone, it will involve me holding a
7. Your favourite quote?
One of my weaknesses as a leader is that I am a little too understanding and reasonable, so I twist myself out of shape to accommodate others and to understand the barriers they face. I know that at times I need to be more stubborn and unreasonable in order to get stuff done. So, for many years I carried around this quote from George Bernard Shaw:"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.“