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The Essence of Leadership

January 5, 2011

So much has been said, written and thought about leadership that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify what actually makes a good leader.

Be decisive in leadership

One important attribute of leadership is being decisive!

So when the BBC announced it was dedicating two thirty minute radio shows to the subject, by asking leaders from politics, business and sport what they believe makes a good leader, we had to tune in. Listen again to the programme here:  http://bbc.in/fbhJ5S.

Some of the attributes listed by the leaders interviewed included:

  • Self confidence
  • The willingness to rise to the occasion
  • Luck and circumstance
  • Thick skin
  • Affection towards and from your followers
  • According to Ming Campbell, in politics at least, ruthlessness
  • Being decisive
  • Vision – a clear view of what you want to achieve and how
  • The ability to communicate, influence and inspire others towards your vision
  • Being good at what you do
  • A team of good followers

Comedian Mark Steel takes a more cynical approach, pointing out that in history exceptional leaders have been so focused on their mission that they become obsessive, often at the expense of their families, relationships and health.

Interestingly the show identified that there have been academic studies carried out to identify the key characteristics of great leaders. This is known as Trait Theory but unsurprisingly nobody can agree on the list. There continues to be much debate about whether leaders are born or can be made with little evidence suggesting that leadership is a genetic feature which is with us from the outset.

So assuming that the leaders of the future will be the result of training in its forms Prof Alex Haslam (University of Exeter) points out that it is vital that organisations measure the impact of leadership education.

He goes on to suggest that building teams is at the heart of growing leaders.

“We are still very much bogged down in the idea of leaders as great individuals and people that are set apart from the group. By putting leaders on a pedestal and treating them as special and different, we loose what is really special about leadership which is that it’s the best of us and we, everybody, is a part of great leadership.”

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