What’s the most important quality in a great leader?

Thomas-SerenaWilliamsAndyMurrayandaPoliticalWimbledon-1200Eve Poole, author of Leadersmithing and leadership coach, believes that one of the overriding qualities for leadership is manners.  Making others feel comfortable.  Faced with rudeness you should shame those people by perhaps saying “How Rude” loudly and beaming at them.  Or making eye contact and “shaming” them.  (Do try this in a media pub and then please write to Eve and let her know how it went, and good luck).  Anyway, she said, recently, always pour the tea in the meeting.  In The Glass Wall, we exempt women leaders from this, saying women should never pour the tea (unless they’re the ceo, which in media circles is still far too rare).  Poole’s book mentions other leadership skills of course, and there are many to consider.

What is the overriding quality of a great leader?

Is there one that is paramount?

Is it manners?

Being polite is a good quality for a senior leader.  It is not necessarily the most important quality, although outright rudeness is unacceptable.

Caring about people is important.  However as Kim Scott, another leadership coach points out there is a world of difference in effective management between how and why you express that caring.  Ruinous empathy gets business nowhere.  Caring about the people you work with has to be accompanied with straight talking for radical candour which truly moves business on.

At a leadership team away day last year several people talked about being inspirational as a leadership attribute.  But what does that really mean?  You have to deliver for the business and for people to be inspirational.  You can’t just inspire by trying to be inspirational.

Who do you personally find inspiring anyway?  For me it’s the outliers who have delivered a step change in business or better still for society and culture.  Probably no-one on my top ten list set out to be inspirational.  They set out to do something better than it was currently being done

The single most important ingredient in a good leader:  Winning.

Really competitive people make great leaders.  Only if they are competitive for the business and the team.  Personal competitiveness isn’t enough.  In fact it can lead to selfishness and a “rock star” tendency to fail to get the best out of everyone.  Competitiveness on behalf on the whole, for the team they lead and the business that they love, is another thing entirely, and is a sine qua non of great leadership.

Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. Competitive team leaders don’t have a half committed approach to any project that they’re working on.  Good enough is never good enough.  They care about getting better, about being the best.  This makes for a focus for teams that inspires everyone.  They don’t give up.  If they fall over, they just get back up and try again.
  2. They don’t care at all about the norms of any category.  Just because things have been done in a certain way up until now, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of doing them.  Nothing holds them back from looking for innovation and this drives creativity in their teams and for the business.
  3. They care about people.  Really care.  Because they know that a good team is greater than the sum of its parts.  Because they understand that they cannot be the best at every part of the project that they’re leading they worry more than anyone about how to get the best out of the wider team that they work with.  So though this might be counter-intuitive the people who truly are most competitive are actually the people who care most about coaching and developing a diverse team in the best way possible.



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