Concentrating on what makes a good leader great and not a great leader good?

Forget all of the academic work on leadership and just concentrate for a moment not on eduspeak but on common sense. The making of a great leader is not a science, we cannot put the bits into a model and we certainly can’t predict where or how a leader will lead. Manufacturing a leader also never works. We have to watch how people perform and what they do to identify the essence of good leadership. This creates a personal profile rather than looking at a book and trying to squeeze leaders (if they are) into a box. Great leaders defy classification as they utilise so many soft skills and other attributes to ensure that they lead well. They don’t contrive their leadership, nor do they conform to socially accepted ideas and norms, but they feel their way to the right methods of delivery and are, because of this, great leaders.

Having worked with Olympic Coaches, athletes, charity workers, railway station managers, music promoters, security guards, and many more people from all walks of life I have come to understand the paucity of authenticity in our work. I am not talking about authentic leadership here but something more intrinsic which forms part of a key relationship between the leader and the following team.

This, however, cannot be written down as fact, nor can it be migrated or taught to others as it is a range of empathetic understandings of the link between the operational, the tactical, and the strategic delivery points and how to drive the team to develop a holistic understanding of the business from a range of viewpoints. Through this journey, the team is able to buy into the vision and mission.

This is not about lip service nor is it about KPI’s, which can destroy business through pseudo high achievement rates, a focus on the quantitative and a lack of being able to qualitatively apply skills and ideas in a world that exists only on high result realisation. In my business, we start by turning the normal business ideas on their heads. We do this by getting our ideas from the shop floor where the engine room resides, take these to our team meetings, and discuss how we can lead and manage these elements into the business. When we work with top businesses, the best results come when they include people from each layer of the business in the session. These are key measuring points of the heartbeat of the business and they are free to give opinions and take criticism, as this supports an approach that works well in the changing and innovative business that we run. Normal leadership development is poor, there are too many people looking for the next big academic idea rather than working with the raw material and looking at how emerging leaders can continue to integrate their teams.

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