Three ways to understand what makes a great leader

In my professional life, I am proudly associated with an organisation which has created wealth for tens of thousands around the globe. And yet for all of its proud history over decades, that same group is having going through a difficult patch. Names and details are irrelevant, but the question arises if the current leadership has got what it takes to deal with the issues and move ahead?

As a business mentor, it is a question that you are faced with every week. You face clients doubting themselves because of whatever mess they find they are in. At other times, I am left wondering if customers have the necessary skills to take charge. Is there a generic check list to help people through these situations?

With some degree of ironic timing, three very different postings have come my way in the past 24 hours on this very topic.

The Financial Times newspaper asks “when should a company founder step down?”. Focusing on the CEO of Groupon, the column offers advice from an investor, an academic and an executive. Much of the discussion revolves around the phrase “what is the best for the organisation”.

Interestingly, as somebody involved with start ups, I was also struck by the last sentence. “Are they (the founders) willing to build a company that could function without them or do they still want to be the centre of the universe?” For the record, one of the first great leaders on the planet was Moses. And his reputation was not just built on leading a cantankerous people around the desert. He knew when his time was up and then deliberately helped to groom the next generation.

The second item comes from a TED talk by Boone Pickens, an octogenerian business magnate, who started life in a small town in Oklahoma. Mr Pickens keeps things simple and concise. And he drew up a 10 point leadership programme.

I speficially liked the first two items; Have a good work ethic and make a plan. In his chat, Pickens elaborated on the idea of a plan. For me he should have exchanged it for the word ‘vision’. As I encourage people to understand; if you know where you want to end up, you will then endeavour to find those tools and the correct environment that will secure your dream. Success may not be guaranteed, but you will have a great chance of achieving it.

And the third story comes from Australia. As a lover of English cricket, I am no fan of Ricky Ponting. In the same breath, I will add what is obvious to lovers of the sport; this is a  person who as played cricket at its best. In a tribute to Ponting, Justin Langer, a former co-player,  described his captain as a legend. “He walks the talk and wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he doesn’t do himself.”

It would be petty of me to relate these items to my original problem. Yes, I fnd some parallels. However, these are issues that impact on all organisations, wherever you are located. So, if I am looking for a basic guide in leadership, I will start by offering that we may need to consider how Moses behaved a mere 5,000 years ago.

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