What it Takes to be a Great Leader?

What It Takes To Become a Great Leader

What it Takes to be a Great Leader?

We know that Leadership is important. Do we really understand what it takes to be a great leader?  More importantly are we willing to dig deep, to do the work on ourselves, to benefit the organisation?

According to Bersin, 89% of Executives say they need to improve organisational leadership. At OMT, we have been working in Leadership Development for nearly 30 years, we’ve seen leaders across a range of industries and skill levels.  From getting in and rolling up our sleeves, asking tough questions and requiring deep, and sometimes painful, transformation – here is what we believe are some of the key behaviours and attributes that make great leaders:


  1. Self-awareness; – the foundation of great leadership. Before you can become a great leader, you need to understand yourself. I often find that people who want to know – are already halfway there.  Where we run into real problems is when we meet leaders who think they have all the answers and also who think they are highly self-aware. A truly self-aware leader is always looking to learn more about themselves, they seek feedback, admit their mistakes and use this information to become a better leader (the last bit is often the missing link).  A mindset of continuous personal development permeates from great leaders.


  1. ‘Be yourself; – everyone else is already taken’.  If you are authentic, people will trust you.  If you try to develop a leadership ‘persona’ it will not work – the real you will always emerge, especially when the ‘sh1t hits the fan’ and people are really looking to you.  Focus on becoming the best possible version of yourself.


  1. Go and see for yourself. A central pillar of the Toyota way.  Be aware of the leadership bubble you inhabit, burst it and connect with the ground.  This is even more important in global organisations, whose headquarters can become distant from the reality of the business.  Senior leaders are usually managed within an inch of their lives when they do site visits – it’s like a visit from the Queen!  Connect with your customers and recent hires in a natural and discrete way, without being managed or directed by local leaders.  You will learn more about your business if you get out there more often and talk to the people on the ground.


  1. Lead with Why, not What. Check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk. ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.  Focus on why you are doing what you are doing.  Link any key projects or priorities to the ‘WHY’ – the vision.  If you don’t have a great vision, take time out to build it, then lead with it.  When you lead with ‘why’ not ‘what’, people are way more engaged.


  1. Be the last to speak. As a leader, you have a massive influence on the discussion.  If you want people to do what they’re told, speak first.  The result of this is you will have non-thinking direct reports, who do what they’re told.  To really create great leaders of the future, you have to focus on developing critical thinking.  Leaders who can sit and reflect, probe and encourage and facilitate debate.  Ask the right questions to keep things moving, but reserve your input until last.


  1. Lead by example. Remember, you set the culture. People will look at how you behave to figure out how they can behave.  Be aware of conflicts between stated corporate values and your behaviour.  The more senior you are the more this impacts the organisation.  We see this again and again in organisations, where stated values are not being lived by leaders.  Making the values a source of frustration and ridicule.


  1. Focus more on intrinsic motivation. Financial motivation will only get you so far, if you can tap into people’s internal drivers this can be transformative… have a watch of  Dan Pinks TED talk on The Puzzle of Motivation, it’s worth the time.  Many leaders are still trying to motivate staff using means that are proven not to work.


  1. Take time to read, think and reflect. Bill Gates has his famous ‘think week’ to reflect and plan… originally he did this alone, then he started using technology to engage with key team members.  If you are too busy to take time out to critically think about your business, you cannot be leading, you must be managing.


  1. Create a coaching culture. Coaching is shown to be a very effective and sustainable form of people development and will greatly assist your employee engagement and talent management requirements over the long term.  Establish the culture – it must be from the top down or it will not work, remember it takes time and effort to embed properly.  But once embedded in the culture it will be there forever.


Leadership is a work in practice, no matter how good you are, there will always be room for improvement.  If it’s so important, you really need to think about it.  Take regular time out, create a routine or habit around checking in with yourself, to consider how you are leading, and what you can do to improve.  Then really focus on improving.  If you do this well, you are half way there to being a great leader!

Mark Doyle

Mark became joint owner of OMT in 2004. As Chief Executive, he is responsible for the day to day management of the business and for the smooth delivery of our high performance programmes. Before OMT, Mark held a number of senior management positions across the finance sector, specialising in operations management, business transformation, project management, new product development and treasury management. Mark believes that OMT’s people are their key strength as a growing organisation. Their ability, commitment and passion are what make OMT truly different.

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