Effective leadership is not just a job, it’s a complex interaction between a range of personal and professional qualities and experiences. We have reviewed a multitude of leadership publications and identified 8 key areas you should focus on to improve your effectiveness.
Scan the shelves of any decent book shop and you’ll find a dozen or more tomes setting out this theory or that on what it means to be an effective leader. Daniel Goleman says it’s about Emotional Intelligence, IQ and technical skill. Tom Peters says it’s about having a passion for excellence. Steven Covey says it’s about seven habits. In Marshall Goldsmith’s “The Leader of the Future”, one of the most popular books on leadership ever written, 37 of the world’s foremost business experts set out their thoughts in over 300 insightful pages which, taken together, paint a rich and detailed picture of what it takes to be a great leader. 300 pages! And that’s just one book! But can we simplify things? Find some common threads, perhaps? Yes we can.

Find the best fit

The world of business is littered with people who took up positions for all the wrong reasons, drifted from role to role without knowing what they really wanted and were promoted to the level of their own incompetence. Are you doing a job that suits you down to the ground and plays to your strengths or are you struggling to cope or find relevance in it? Put another way; are you up to it, and can you be bothered? Effective leadership starts with the self; do what you enjoy and can excel at and success will surely follow.

“It’s not experience that counts or college degrees or other accepted factors – success hinges on a fit with the job.” Harvard Business Review

What needs to be done?

So you’re in the right position – what does that require of you? More specifically, what does the situation require? What’s working well? What’s not? What do you need to do about it? When Lou Gerstner became CEO of IBM in 1993 he quickly moved to shift the company’s narrow focus on mainframe technology to a more complete offering that included software and service and now spans PCs to supercomputers. This was crucial in turning around IBM’s fortunes. On a smaller scale, the best boss I ever had would do two things immediately when he took on a new role; study the numbers inside out, and talk to a huge range staff at every level.  As he put it –  “Find out what should be happening, find out what is happening, then go to work”.

“Successful leaders don’t start out asking “What do I want to do?” They ask, “What needs to be done?” Then they ask, “Of those things that would make a difference, which are right for me?”
Peter Drucker, author and management consultant

What can you do?

Effective leaders know their strengths and weaknesses and don’t try to tackle things they aren’t good at. As well as identifying things they themselves can positively affect, they also figure out who in their team and network of contacts can make a positive impact on the other priorities that present themselves. So there are two issues here – first, play to your strengths and manage around your weaknesses; second, leverage your resources, especially your people.

“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow”
Woodrow T. Wilson, 28th President of the United States

Do the right things

If people are not to wander aimlessly, work in silos or pursue competing agendas they need to be given a clear mission, know what results they should achieve and be held accountable for achieving those results. Effective leaders, therefore, create a compelling mission and vision and they communicate precisely what they expect of their team. If your people aren’t focused on the same priorities you’re focused on, why not and at what cost?

“If the blind shall lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch”.
Jesus Christ

Influence others and events

If we’re to be effective leaders then we clearly have to be adept at influencing people to follow the paths we map out. Work is increasingly performed by diverse groups operating in diverse locations and these distributed networks can only be effective if people are very clear about where they’re going and what they have to achieve. Typically, we can influence people through task-focused behaviour and relationship-focused behaviour. The firstn one is directive – telling people what we want them to do, when to do it, how to do it, where to do it; the other is more democratic – listening, discussing, facilitating, collaborating, agreeing. Knowing which style to use and when is a skill that needs to be mastered if you’re going to lead your team effectively.

“He who thinks he leads and has no-one following him is only taking a walk”

Set a good example

Leaders have high visibility. Failure to walk the talk and live by the company’s values is noticed by all. Lose your credibility and you lose the hearts and minds of your team – it’s as simple as that.

“I want to make sure there is no discrepancy between what we say and what we do. If you preach accountability and then promote somebody with bad results, it doesn’t work. I personally believe the best training is management by example. Don’t believe what I say. Believe what I do.”
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan

Develop yourself, develop your team

Some people argue that leadership can’t be taught, that it has to be learned through direct experience, but if that’s the case then what’s the point of the gazillions of words written each year on how to be a better leader? Few would argue that leadership does have to be learned on the job, but teaching can inform that learning experience in many vital ways. What’s more, people at any level of the organisation can and should be encouraged to lead – it’s about attitude and behaviour, not titles and positions – and research shows that leadership training accelerates promotion, increases revenue and lowers costs. That’s a bottom line triple earner.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric


Change is not just unavoidable, it’s the norm. The effective leader views change as an opportunity and seeks always to embrace it and utilise it rather than resist it and fall prey to it. That means moving with the times – ahead of them, even. Update your skills, update your knowledge, delve deeper, range wider, keep learning. If you want to maintain a good fit between you and your job you’re going to have to stay in shape.

“Going, if not yet gone, are the 9-5 workdays, lifetime jobs, predictable, hierarchical relationships, corporate culture security blankets, and, for a large and growing sector of the workforce, the workplace itself.”
Mary O’Hara-Devereaux, think-tank management consultant

Read up on leading positive change, measuring the right things, and ENGAGE OR DIE, project team culture, leadership styles and your difficult person.

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