Q&A Series: Strong leadership 101 - skills, knowledge and experience

What makes a leader?

What have been the most impactful events or realisations that have shaped where you are today?

Strong leadership 101

I've had a few bits of good advice in my life about good leadership that have served me well:

  • Leadership and management are two different modes of operation. Be conscious when you might be using one when the other would be more effective.
  • Blame yourself first when things go wrong. Did you provide good instructions? Have you provided a compelling vision of the future? Have you recruited badly?
  • Integrity is the most important quality in a leader.

Do you think leaders need to have innate qualities? 

I think leaders certainly need to demonstrate certain qualities. For some people I'm sure they're innate, and for others they're not - but they can be emulated to achieve the same effects. Robert De Niro makes a convincing gangster in Goodfellas but, in reality, he is anything but. In the same way, someone can be a good leader by simply doing what we know good leaders do. I think it's certainly easier if those qualities are innate to you - it can be exhausting if you need to wear a mask and behave outside your natural comfort zone all the time.

I think the qualities that leaders have are similar to those that a good older sibling would have. If you're the eldest or have an older sibling then you'll know that when they're doing their 'job' right they're protecting, advising, forgiving, nurturing and mentoring while also being honest with you about what you're doing wrong. And if they fall out with you, you know it's because they care and want you to do well! They're also good role models - setting the example is fundamental in good leadership.

Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate

How important do you think it is to criticise yourself in terms of work, capabilities, performance etc?

I've always believed that you should be critical of yourself and your work before others can be. Be quick to articulate any problems or challenges to your bosses, colleagues and subordinates but, crucially, come prepared with a plan for how you're going to improve the position. Above all, take responsibility, don't take things personally, don't pass the buck, and be honest as much as you can be.

What's the best advice you could give to someone about to take of a senior or executive role?

Your team comes first, your job is to help them deliver great work and results. Don't play them against each other, and never take credit for their work either. Your job is simple - help make it possible for them to reach their fullest potential within the business' objectives. They'll then call you a great leader - and it's actually only their opinion that counts for anything.

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