Good Leadership, Bad Leadership. We all know it when we see it.

Leadership is a topic that has been done to death in management books, sporting team analysis, politics, and most consulting engagements. Over recent months I have had a number of first hand experiences that have lead me to contemplate what makes good and bad leadership. There are of course thousands of examples of both good and bad leadership. And most of us know it when we see it – usually we are very quick to identify bad leadership. It’s obvious when people mess it up. It’s a topic that has been around for centuries – yet we still get it wrong. Over and over and over again.

1. The ability to sell the “why”?  We can all talk about what needs to be done and even how we are going to do it. But a compelling “why” is what grabs our attention. Simon Sinek absolutely nails it in his video below. Whether an army or an executive team, clarity of purpose drives people to action. People need to be “captured” emotionally (see my earlier post – Emotion makes more converts than reason). In his video Simon presents a very compelling argument. The Apple example is overused by many but resonates here. Recently I’ve seen many examples of the opposite. People in leadership positions who have not managed to engage or lead because there is no clarity of purpose. They have none – so how can they communicate it? Watch the video below – let me know what you think.

2. Know the individual.  Great sporting coaches do this very well. They know what it takes to get the team to perform by understanding what drives individuals and what they need to perform at their peak. Great leaders get the most out of their people. Alan Jeans the Australian rules football coach could tap in to the mind of his players and knew how to get them to perform. Some he would encourage and praise, others he would challenge, some he would belittle knowing that defiance was what made them perform. A dangerous approach if you don’t know what you are doing. This extends to giving feedback. Leaders will always be called upon to review performance, good or bad. If you don’t know the individual or how and what they’ve been doing, save your breath. All you will do is annoy people and lose them.

3. Get of your backside.  The simplest rule. Speak to people. Breathe in the air of the office, locker room, factory. Get away from your desk. What is really going on isn’t on your laptop.

Everyone knows I’m a bit of a sports nut….Vince Lombardi summed it up…“It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.” 

Like I said we all know it when we see it – particularly poor leadership. I would welcome your comments on what you think makes a good leader.


2 thoughts on “Good Leadership, Bad Leadership. We all know it when we see it.

  1. Hi James. As you have pointed out, it’s far easier to point out examples of poor leadership than good leadership. Perhaps good leadership is hard to find because it is hard to precisely define what constitutes a good leader. I find the concept of Managers vs Leaders an interesting one. A person may be a good Manager (organised, eye for detail, prioritises, delegates well etc) but may not necessarily be a good ‘leader’. The reverse may certainly be true as well. When I think of those whom I consider Leaders rather than Managers, I think what it boils down to for me is essentially captured in your Vince Lombardi quote. Someone who elicits an emotional response from me and captures my loyalty. Why and in what specific circumstances does this happen? It’s very hard to say for sure, perhaps because we are dealing in the realm of emotions rather than reason here. I think, among other things, a Leader is someone who brings their “whole self” to work. It’s someone who is ready and able to create personal, and not just professional, bonds with the people around them. I suppose Leadership is a little bit like Innovation. Everybody talks about it and claims to want it, but hardly anyone actually gets it right. Perhaps because Innovation too requires a set of serendipitous factors and circumstances that cannot be artificially manufactured or engineered, but need to emerge organically. I guess that means that one can, at best, create certain conditions or circumstances to encourage it to emerge, but there is not guarantee that innovation (or leadership) will necessarily happen. I’m thinking of the Googles and Apples out there and I guess this is pretty much what they have managed to do – get a bunch of smart, driven people together, give them tools and a conducive environment in which to innovate – and then leave them the heck alone. Got a bit off-topic perhaps but I think it’s interesting to reflect on the similarities between Innovation and Leadership (perhaps one leads to the other? Steve Jobs? Henry Ford? That Tesla Motors guy?).
    – Abhi (from EY)

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