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What makes an effective leader?

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As part of our January feature on management and leadership development, Jeremy Webster, Partner at the MaST International training and development consultancy, looks at what makes people follow a leader, and why we need them in organisations.


What is leadership?

Effective leadership is a very different skill to managing. It is about creating a vision of the future and inspiring others to want to work with you to attain that goal. Managing is creating efficient methods and systems to deliver the results. It is worth noting that good leaders do not have to be high profile individuals. Leaders include ordinary people who have an idea and then harness the skills and talents of people around them to turn that idea into reality. In so doing, the leader helps these people learn more about themselves and encourages them to stretch outside their comfort zone. This causes them to be inspired and committed to the task.

Employees can find it confusing when they try to identify what makes an effective leader. Examining the leadership styles of CEOs from the top 100 companies will highlight the many different styles of leadership that exist. Not only are their styles different but also their personalities and the situations they find themselves in.


Why is leadership important now?

In today’s climate, people are uncertain about the future. Employees want to protect what they have, and are reluctant to embrace change and take risks. Loyalty is strained as employees are wary of being let down by their bosses and prefer to be self-reliant. Therefore, if they can find a way of meeting their own objectives without relying on, or following anybody else, they will do so. They are also focused on increasing their own success, regardless of the impact on others, to secure their position.

The outcome of this situation is employees strive for different goals; believe that his or her ideas are as important as the next person’s; are unsure of who makes the final decision. This leads to confusion both internally as to where the organisation is going, and externally to the customer.


Employee attitudes to leadership

Although most organisations recognise the need for effective leadership, an alarming number of employees do not feel that their organisation has good leaders. A recent Institute of Management survey found that just one per cent of junior managers expressed confidence in their senior managers. Over the past fifteen years of working with a wide range of companies, I have found that over 90% of employees are not happy with the results they are getting at work, and yet continue to do the same activity without making the necessary changes to achieve different results.

Leadership is personal and employees have to want to take the lead, because it demands that employees ‘stick their neck out’ and take risks when others may be sitting back. Leaders push ideas and thoughts forward when others will keep quiet and try to change the status quo when others are happy to exist. Leaders ultimately shoulder the responsibility when things do not work out. Often people in business today are unwilling to take these necessary risks. This is often due to the culture of their organisation. Many organisations send out positive messages about the need for innovation and challenge, but then look for somebody to blame when a new idea doesn’t succeed.


Ten key activities for good leaders

Outlined below is a list of ten key activities that good leaders should undertake:

1. Identify and communicate where you want to get to: Many people go through life without being able to identify what it is they really want. Good leaders must be able to envisage objectives and communicate them to others in a way that will gain their buy-in and their commitment to helping achieve it.

2. Have self-confidence and courage: Being a leader is a lonely business. Many leaders do have counsellors and mentors, but ultimately they have to make the decisions and live with the consequences, good or bad. This requires confidence and courage.

3. Seek out effectiveness: Effectiveness is proactively striving for ways to improve performance on an ongoing basis. You need to display this behaviour, as well as finding effective employees to support you.

4. Inspire others to follow: Inspiration is the art of stimulating three key emotions:
Self-awareness: promoting self-awareness in others around you is the first step in managing change
Confidence: you need to give your colleagues a ‘can do’ feeling
Optimism: highlight possibilities and paint a positive picture of the future, to help employees see opportunities.

5. Develop win/win relationships: Create positive relationships with colleagues who will help you achieve what you want. Relationships must be a two-way process, and you should also ensure that you are helping your colleagues achieve their own goals in return.

6. Learn from situations: Success comes from learning from mistakes. Allow your employees to make mistakes and encourage them to analyse what they should do differently next time.

7. Be persistent: Effective leaders do not give up. They persist in creating their future because they have ownership of the idea. Treat obstacles as challenges to overcome.

8. Be sensitive to the needs of those around you: Take into account the feelings and emotions of those around you. Find out your team’s needs and strive to meet them.

9. Have a positive attitude: I have never yet met a good leader who does not have a positive attitude. Check your language and analyse the words you use. Ask for feedback from your peers, line managers and direct reports.

10. Use a sounding board: Leaders gather a select group of people around them who are their mentors / coaches / counsel. Use these people as sounding boards to check ideas and plans before launching them. This group of select people must not just say yes, but must challenge you.


Leadership is vital for the success of any venture. Someone has to have the vision of what is to be achieved within the next five years, know who is going to help him or her achieve it, and have the passion in order to drive the project through. This applies to all levels within an organisation, and not just to the person at the very top.


What do you think are the essential leadership qualities? What is the relationship between leadership and management? Post your comments below, or email us.

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