What makes a great leader and how do you identify potential in your team?

people follow a leader community of followers.jpg s1024x1024wisk20cdnehVvc739n8VZPmS2PQtsOAmpn3atC09 CfZfcVpbM | What makes a great leader and how do you identify potential in your team?
By Stephanie Coward | 17th May 2023 | 6 min read

I’ve just finished my first year running the Human Capital Management division here at IRIS Software Group - it’s been a tough year for many business leaders and I’m sure most would concur that some mighty hills have had to be climbed.  

Personally, it has been a year where I’m pleased to say I’ve learnt and achieved a lot.

I am so proud to end year one at the helm of a high performing team who share my vision for the future of our business and consider me a decent leader. 

I’ve spoken a lot about my views on leadership over the past year; it’s so important to get it right because bad leaders can be so destructive.

But what separates great and bad leaders? I’m going to offer you my views on what makes a great leader and how to identify leadership potential from within your teams. 

What makes a bad leader? 

The media is littered with examples of bad leaders in government, academia and business.  

You’ve got the likes of Liz Truss – a classic example of a manager being promoted to a leader without any natural ability in that area.

Some people top out at manager level and simply can’t make the transition to leadership - Liz Truss was a costly example of this. 

Elon Musk, however, has to be the most notable leadership car crash that has unfolded publicly.

The world’s richest man has been accused of treating people as collateral damage instead of human beings and forgetting basic decency as he forges on regardless, swinging his oppressive leadership style around the Twitter offices. 

But the most common kind of incompetent leader isn’t usually the ranting, narcissistic oppressor.

They are something a little more subtle; here are some sure-fire ways of spotting a bad one:  

  • People who are unable to articulate or report where they are with projects 
  • People who seem to spend all their time dealing with urgent problems 
  • Non team players who see other leaders/peers as barriers or impediments 
  • People who are slow with decision-making  
  • People who seem to constantly have to resolve down-line people problems 
  • People who have difficulty delegating 

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Beware the absent leader! 

Come on, we’ve all come across one.

For me, the worst kind of leader is the absent one.

These people enjoy the rewards of a leadership role, but avoid any kind of meaningful involvement with their teams.  

No direction. No engagement. No thanks! These leaders absolutely murder productivity. 

There is nothing more soul destroying than being ignored by your boss - it’s worse than being treated badly by another inadequate form of leadership style.

What’s even more worrying is their ability to remain invisible within an organisation.

Some companies remain completely unaware of them because they are experts in not drawing attention to themselves.  

The difference between a manager and a leader 

According to CIPD, over 10 million people in the UK are line managers, amongst their other duties.

Managers follow systems and procedures, deliver on plans and prioritise steps to task achievement. Leaders create a shared vision, then motivate others and ignite enthusiasm to make sure everyone is on the bus working towards that vision. 

As Peter Drucker famously said: "management is doing the right things, leadership is doing things right." 

Managers co-ordinate resources, give instructions, delegate with clarity and limit risk, whereas leaders focus on strategic growth opportunities, look at what’s coming, take calculated risks and manage change. 

They're a role model. They coach. They appeal to people’s emotions. They're excellent communicators and make it their business to unleash potential. This comes naturally to them. 

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Look for the 4 'Cs' in your people 

I think it was McKinsey who came up with the Four Cs of great leaders: they are Confident in themselves, Connected to others, Committed to a purpose and emotionally Courageous.  

Most potential leaders are good at one or two, but great leaders demonstrate all four.  

If someone is confident but disconnected, no one will be on their bus. If they’re connected but lack confidence, they are just a people pleaser. If they’re not committed to a purpose, their actions/outputs won’t be respected by others. If they are not decisive and emotionally courageous, their strategies will remain just thoughts or whims. 

Maybe make a checklist of some of your top performers and rank them against the four Cs - you might be surprised at what you find. 

My No 1 Leadership takeaway 

Successful individuals, in nearly every profession, are those that are capable of convincing others to take action.

Leaders persuade employees to take the right plans of action; the ability to persuade is perhaps the single greatest leadership skill.  

Persuasion helps you achieve so much - from attracting investors, to selling products, building brands and triggering innovation. But to be persuasive, you must be interested in and understand human behaviour.

You have to be perceptive, empathetic and socially adept.  

You need to be a nice person! 

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