Leadership shouldn’t be the preserve of a talented minority. It can, and should, be taught across industries so that the UK does not lose out.
Great leaders are simply born that way, and you can’t teach a person to become a leader. No? It’s an age-old view, and one that is challenged. Given the increasing demand for management talent – and the £19.3bn price of poor management in lost working hours – the UK risks not developing enough leaders. Even if you need no introduction to management, the following list may still surprise you with the qualities that successful leaders need today.
1. Let them know what’s important
No leader can accomplish their goals on their own; neither can they get very far without the right people. According to Human Resources Expert Susan Heathfield, the key to team-building is a clear set of expectations for each member. That way, the team can appreciate what it must achieve, as well as understand the importance of certain tasks over others.
2. Ask your team to diagnose the problem
Few examples of great leadership shine so brightly as Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Welch, who was at GE’s helm from 1981 to 2001, was renowned for introducing the employee workout: not a vigorous exercise regime, but a gathering of employees at all levels to discuss what systems worked and what did not. This empowered the GE workforce and, arguably, helped GE hit projected earnings like no other company at the time.
3. Be a dreamer
Where some leaders succeed through human resources, others do so through their compelling vision. The late, great Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs was one such: arguably his greatest achievement was spotting the potential for once-dull high-tech instruments to become shiny, desirable consumer products that integrate fully with people’s lives.
4. Cut to the chase
To Brian Tracy, coauthor of 12 Disciplines of Leadership Excellence, the ability to channel resources and collective direction on the most important jobs is key. Showing such focus comes on the back of being able to see the big picture.
5. Relish problems
To some, including former US Army General Colin Powell, leadership is really about solving problems. Powell claimed that you stop being a leader if people no longer bring you their problems. “They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
6. Look outward
Along with qualities of self-confidence and encouraging communication, many people overlook one crucial quality of charisma: turning the focus of your conversation away from yourself. The trick is really to ask engaging questions in conversation so that it revolves around the person you are speaking to.
7. Be good
According to the CMI’s Management 2020 report, one of the devastating impacts of the 2007 financial crisis has been an erosion of trust in leaders’ motivations. Scandals in the non-profit sector too have meant that many employees are questioning their leaders’ true motives. It found that leaders who employ subterfuge and chicanery are unlikely to inspire those around them.
8. Know when to stay quiet
Practising self-awareness and reflecting on your decisions – even bad ones – are not attributes that sit well with the traditional view of an extroverted leader. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is a fierce advocate of introverted leaders who take the time to make their decisions and try to learn from their mistakes.
It is a view shared by the Commission on the Future of Management and Leadership, which is concerned that organisations may be weakened “if they come under the undue influence of flamboyant personalities with big egos”.
9. Bin the pyramid
The days of hierarchies may be numbered. Not only does technology support flatter organisational structures, companies with diminished hierarchies are also those that are more flexible in a world of complex challenges and problems. Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive and CMI Gold Medal winner, endorses the concept: “You need partnerships; the problems are so big you can’t solve them by yourself.”
10. Open your mind
One of the merits of flatter working structures is that leaders are free to learn from those around them. But beyond a leader’s immediate sphere is a rich network of professional organisations and informal clubs that offer leaders the opportunity to engage with peers.
Becoming a successful leader is no easy task, but those who want to start the journey would do well to take get the ball rolling with an Introduction to Management course. You’ll learn the basics and it’s a great step towards progressing your career.