What Makes a Great Leader?

Armies, governments, rock bands, sports teams – even knitting groups – all need leaders. So there should be no surprise that businesses that have no clear leader, or no effective leadership, suffer from more than simply poor performance.

This would be the perfect spot for a dictionary definition of ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’. But instead, the following are a few anecdotal examples of how leadership (or the lack of it) has suggested itself to me over many years of working in, and with, different organisations.

One Message: the best leaders I’ve worked with are able to express the organisation’s goals and values in a simple and logical manner. They do this whether they are speaking to a major shareholder or the forklift driver. They convey it in words that are entirely their own (they do not use trite sound bites from published ‘gurus’), and the good ones avoid cliché while they’re at it.

Visibility and accessibility: it may seem an obvious one, but it’s often overlooked. I once worked with a company that had recently appointed a new Managing Director from within existing management, a development that was welcomed by staff. The previous incumbent had been remote, partly located in another country, and was infrequently available. The newly promoted leader’s office was conveniently located next to the main management team’s desks, in a glass-walled room with helpful line-of-sight with his colleagues. What was the first thing he did? Installed vertical blinds on his office’s transparent walls, closing them immediately and permanently. Not only was he sending a ‘Leave Me Alone’ signal (and Management acceded to this request, to the detriment of the company), but suddenly it looked as though someone had built a private Wendy House in the middle of what had been a viable open-plan area. A bad start.

First 100 Days: typically used in relation to the first 100 days of a first term presidency of the United States, this has become a standard first period by which a new leader is measured. The phrase was first used by Franklin D. Roosevelt, and is still used to measure the successes and achievements of a president during the period that their power and influence are at their greatest. Whether they have ever heard this phrase or not, newly appointed leaders instinctively understand its importance, and ensure both their actions, and visible symbolism around them, are understood by all.

Deeds, not Words: I’m fortunate to spend so much time with different managers in very different organisations, across all sorts of fields. Some of them are fortunate to be good communicators at both a one-to-one and a group level. But the leaders that make the biggest impact, and at the very least earn the respect of colleagues and employees, are the ones that understand that their actions are far more important than what they say. There is no actionable example to follow in even the finest oration, but people will always see, and can easily follow, deeds and behaviour. The simple things: time-keeping, cost management, being ‘on top of the brief’ in terms of facts, well-run meetings – leaders can not escape the fact that they will be judged by their visible performance. And if they come up short of expectations, they can be certain that whatever deficiency they display is suddenly acceptable behaviour for everyone else. Parents have understood this simple fact for generations, but business managers often believe this ancient wisdom can be ignored in a commercial organisation. Time to go back to the Wendy House and submit to some rigorous self-appraisal.

The power of written goals

‘Write a goal down?! Pah – It’s all up here in my head…!’

Goal setting is a key component of any successful person or business. When this subject comes up there is usually a look of dismay on my clients’ face when I explain how important writing them down is, and I hear sentences such as ‘there’s no point, I know what I want, and I know how to get there…’ or ‘That seems like a waste of time…’ . This article (published by Leadership Management Australia) sums it up quite nicely.

Its not a waste of time, it actually saves you time, and makes you more likely to achieve your goals!


‘Individuals with written goals achieved approximately 50% more of their goals than those without written goals’

Shed Loads of Leadership

September update from Mark Tonks & LMI

Welcome to latest edition of Shed Loads of Leadership. In this edition a little food for thought, a couple of upcoming events ideal for business networking alongside personal development, an interesting article on the impact of coffee on productivity, a couple of recommendations and of course something just for fun, we hope to enjoy the read.

Food For Thought
How long does it take between a telephone ringing, an email pinging or some other such alert informing us that somebody somewhere wants our attention?

Manage this situation by managing expectations. If you always respond to an email by return it will become expected, it will become normal. If you always answer your mobile when it rings it will become expected and normal. Be honest – what percentage of communication really demands your immediate attention?

Schedule time during the day to read emails and prioritise them, listen to your voice mail and prioritise them in order of importance to you. Take control of your own agenda.

If you communicate this to your staff, colleagues and clients then their expectations are more informed. Remember; you must do what you said you would do! If you say you will call someone back in 30 minutes and you call them back after 60 minutes they will be annoyed; if on the other hand you tell someone you will get back to them in 90 minutes and you call them in 60 minutes they think you’re great.You have delivered exactly the same service the only difference being that you have managed their expectation.

Go on, be brave, turn off you phone for an hour, turn off your email for an hour… the world (and your clients) will still be there when you turn them back on!