Leadership: What makes a good leader?

I was asked recently what I thought Leadership meant.  I think I may have waffled a bit in my response, but I wanted to share a few considered thoughts on what I think a good leader is, or is not.

To be clear, leadership is not management.  Management is more akin to administration and keeping the wheels turning.  Leave management, sickness reporting and budget monitoring are all very important, but nothing to do with leading.

Deming gave some succinct definitions of leadership which I think are essential attributes, including:

  • The ability to see the systemic nature of work – in other words, look at the big picture end to end, and do so factually (people, process, technology, culture… a long list, but that’s generally what a system comprises)
  • Understanding how to measure true capability (not just targets, PI’s and the like) and understanding what variation in performance is really about
  • Understanding people and why they behave the way that they do.  People psychology is a key skill, as is knowledge of self – understanding what pushes your buttons, as well as those around you
  • Understanding how people learn, grow and develop and what is needed to create a learning organisation, not just a compliant organisation
  • Recognise and appreciate the interconnectedness of all of this and the rich complexity of people, systems and processes
  • Giving vision, direction and meaning to the organisation in a democratic way, but with clarity.  This is about aligning the organisation from front line to board level and making all the plans, strategies and objectives real for every single person in the organisation.

It’s about having an unwavering resolve that only the best is good enough, but being humble enough to accept responsibility for things.  A nice analogy is looking in the mirror (to ask what I could have done better), rather than out of the window (to find someone to blame).

Great leaders recognise the vital importance of their people.  Unless you are a one man band, you need other people.  Even one man bands have customers, suppliers, partners etc.

Robert Greenleaf had a thing or two to say about leaders – he coined the phrase ‘servant leader’ and recognised that the role of a leader was more that of a guardian. He used the following as a test of a good leader: Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  What is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?

This says something about values and I think this is the backstop for leadership.  At the end of the day, our values define our beliefs and our beliefs inform how we behave in all that we do.  Setting the tone for what the values of any organisation are, is a key role for leaders and can either reap dividends or disaster.  The choice is yours.


Jaime Beckett, ICE Creates Ltd (jaime.beckett@icecreates.com / 07764 635 472)


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