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Stephen Walker

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I want my leader to…


Google 'Leadership' and you get 487m links, no doubt 488m by the time you read this. Stephen Walker's challenge is what to add to this colossal data storage that is worth that little extra global warming to keep the servers humming. This article addresses what a good leader would do for him, his or her characteristics, skills and actions. 

Leadership vs. management

My belief is that these are the opposite sides of the same coin and neither can exist without a dash of the other. I want my manager to lift my eyes to new possibilities while managing the day to day. Equally I want my leader to inspire me to climb the highest mountain but I’d like to find base camp fully stocked with supplies when I get there!

The three leadership priorities

My leader has to show me the direction to push toward. I need a vision that explains why that destination is important. I need a whole host of things to prepare me to climb the highest peak. I need training, kitting out and transporting to site. Finally, as someone frightened of heights, I need inspiring. Give me the inspiration that puts my fear into the shadows and allows me to fulfil my greatest possibilities.

My leader’s skills

He or she has to have excellent planning and communication skills. I need to know that I won’t be half way up a mountain and discover that the rope is too short. If the rope is too short I want there to be a rescue team, just in case. I want to believe that my leader has communicated this to all concerned: the rescue team know when I’ll be on the mountain and check-ins have been arranged to be sure of my wellbeing.

I want to believe that the supplies in the base camp are ideal and the other camps on the way to the summit are also sensibly stocked. I don’t mind taking a chance for the team but I have to believe everything has been done to give me the best chance of success. 'Things' happen of course and plans never go to plan. Harold Macmillan, UK Prime Minister 1957-63, famously replied to the question "What is the most difficult thing in politics?" with the simple answer “Events, dear boy, events”.

I want to be sure my leader has everything under control and is re-planning to adjust to real life eventualities. Also, for me to want to contribute, I need to feel valued. Unless I’m being paid extraordinary amounts of money I need some recognition of my value. How does a leader weave these different attributes into his or her daily activity?

Strategy and communication

Long range planning and far-sightedness are essential. The fewer strategic surprises the better. My leader has to be good at forecasting or at least at scenario planning encompassing a broad sweep of possibilities. Not that the leader has to do this him or herself but rather cause it to be done.

When my leader gets that right, then luck seems to be on my leader’s side. As if by magic the right resources have turned up in the right place ready to take the opportunities that can be found there.

That luck is the result of clever planning and then organising the resources to the plan. These are management functions it is true, but my leader will communicate the plan so well that the plans will stay in good readiness waiting for those opportunities to arise, despite all the distractions that threaten to divert those resources.


My leader’s brilliant organisational skills ensure the right people, with the right skills, are available to fulfil the necessary tasks to succeed. The far-sighted planning ensures these resources are available when required. The good leader builds confidence in the future – a 'yes we can' attitude that boosts morale and performance. Each individual knows they can do their part, that their team will succeed, and the organisation will achieve its goal.

Everyone believes success is likely if we all work together and do our bit for the overall goal. My leader delegates success to me, my team, and my colleagues. My leader doesn’t expect to be praised for our success: our success is enough for my leader.

A good goal

My leader leads me by showing how the goal of our activity is valuable. From time to time, as events mess up the best plans, I need to be reminded, reenergised and re-inspired to work harder to overcome and get back on track for the goal. Help me keep my eyes on the distant goal and not become befuddled by the minutiae of my daily work.

My leader ensures that we, inside the organisation, know the purpose and value of our goal. My leader also ensures the outside world knows what a fantastic goal we have and how we are achieving.

A great feeling

My leader makes me feel good about what I am spending my working life helping to create. I want to feel part of something important. Of course we aren’t all fortunate to work in an organisation with a simple goal of 'freedom from fear' – no such luck. But we all have our part to play in making people’s lives better.

Whatever you do your end product or service is consumed by somebody somewhere. Delivering that product benefit better enhances people’s lives. My leader helps my team see their part in that goal. My leader helps me see how I make my fellow man’s life better than it might have been.

You might think this is a stretch if you and your team just make pencil sharpeners, but I bet there is someone out there who has devoted a lot of time to become the pencil sharpening expert and could write a pile of books on the subject!

Of course we are not all going to have the impact of Bill Gates on mankind, but we can play our small part to the best of our ability – and be very proud of it.


Clearly a great leader is not always in the front. Leadership is about getting the right resources to the right place, energised and eager to succeed. As a consequence, great leadership is not always visible to the outside world. The people in the organisation draw their inspiration from the leader and deliver the success the leader directs. Naturally a great leader does not claim the credit for the success. The success is delegated. Who do you know who is an inspiring leader?

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He is a published author of articles and now a book, “The Manager's Guide to Conducting Interviews”. He speaks at conferences and is a keynote speaker on organisational performance and the managerial behaviour needed for success. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Blog


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