Melissa Stewart examines the traits it takes to become a great leader.
Gandhi, Mandela, Churchill, Jobs, Branson… All iconic leaders that have inspired and gained respect, be it in politics or in business. But what sets these particular individuals apart from their peers? Why is it their names that we remember and that stand the test of time?
It isn’t just down to their actions. Great leaders have a certain something, a charisma and charm that elevate them above everyone else and make us believe in them and their cause. They’re passionate and committed and inspire the same values in others.
Here’s just a few things that great leaders have in common and what you can learn from them…
Whether it’s striking a business deal, selling to a customer or doing a staff appraisal, a great leader will always be honest. It may be tempting to sugarcoat the information to protect someone, or to cut corners in order to secure a sale, but the smartest way to succeed is to be completely honest.
The reason so many politicians fail in what they do is because people don’t trust them. People don’t believe they’re sincere. A good leader, however, is upfront. They’ll admit when they’re wrong and take responsibility for their actions.
“Part of being a successful business leader involves owning up to your mistakes,” explains Rebecca Jones, a business mentor, coach and author of Business in Red Shoes. “If you stay honest and don’t blame other people for your actions then people will trust you.”
Have you had an employer who is your best friend one minute and then shoots daggers at you the next? Often people who run businesses feel that they need to behave or act in a certain way to gain the respect of their employees. The truth is they don’t.
“The number one rule in business is to be yourself,” says Rebecca. “People see through you if you try to be someone else and you’ll lose respect and alienate people.”
No one person is perfect at everything. Strong business leaders recognise this and work hard to build a strong support team around them. It means building trusted relationships with people, but it pays dividends in the end.
“Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak,” explains Rebecca. “Often, particularly in family-run businesses, where a business has been handed down the generations, the new owner may be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Don’t be.
“A good leader will understand that they can’t do it alone and can learn from others – not just staff but their peers and mentors, too.”
You can’t be the leader of something if you don’t fully believe in it. There has to be passion. Think of Nelson Mandela and his fight to end apartheid in South Africa. Every time he spoke, he did so with passion and conviction. People were drawn to his cause and wanted to join him.
“A great leader has charisma but also complete confidence in what they do. This passion comes through and you can’t help but want to help them,” says Rebecca. “You feel inspired and comfortable supporting them and working with them, but at the same time they have an edge to them – a dynamism.”
You can’t command respect, it’s something that you earn over time. A good leader will do this by building up trust and confidence with his or her employees.
To gain respect you have to be supportive, consistent, listen and share. It doesn’t happen overnight. You need to work at earning it.
A strong business leader isn’t anxious or hesitant in what they do or say, nor do they have to be bullish or patronising. Being confident is all about sticking by your decisions and communicating with conviction, even in the face of opposition.
It’s also about instilling confidence in your team. Let them know that they’re doing a good job and empower them to make their own decisions. A good business leader knows that micro-managing is counterproductive. They put their faith in others so they can focus on business growth.
The best leaders are the ones that communicate clearly their plans, what they expect from their teams, and welcome, listen and respond to feedback.
“Communication is key in leadership,” says Rebecca. “Understand who you’re talking to and alter your message to suit your audience. There’s no point talking in jargon if people won’t understand it. Be clear and to the point.”
Leaders inspire because they believe in what they’re doing. They’re optimistic people by nature and tend to think in terms of solutions, not problems.
They’re also more inclined to take risks because their glass is half full and they focus on the best outcome. They’re resilient too – they can weather the good times and the bad and bounce back from it. Again, this comes back to their unwavering self-belief.
Whether it’s becoming Prime Minister or being a CEO, success doesn’t often happen by accident. Most successful people have worked hard for what they’ve got and planned for it.
If you run a company, then ensure you have a clear business plan or vision. Share it with your team and make them aware of what your company’s objectives are. If everyone is working towards the same shared goal – then you’re more likely to succeed.
The most effective leaders are the ones that bang to the beat of their own drum – they’re 100% true to themselves.
“A leader gets a good reputation by knowing their stuff and having their own personality. People respond best to individuals who are genuine and human,” concludes Rebecca. “Find your own style and just be yourself.”
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