Rising to the challenge: What makes a good leader?

Graham Moore, the first Certified Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge, breaks down what defines true leadership
Rising to the challenge: What makes a good leader?
British politician Winston Churchill speaks at a mass meeting during the 1945 general election
By Thomas Shambler
Tue 31 Oct 2017 03:00 PM

For over 30 years, The Leadership Challenge has been developing leaders all over the world. Now Graham Moore, the first Certified Master Facilitator of the program in the Middle East, shares his views on what makes a good leader, starting with the classic debate - are leaders born or made.

Tell us, can leadership be taught? 
There is a common misconception that leadership is an inherent trait, which few people are born with; when in reality leadership is a set of observable and therefore learnable skills and abilities- and as we know, the best leaders are always learning.

Of course, leaders are born. So are airline pilots, accountants, drivers…everyone is born. Leadership is a choice. Sadly, research shows that the average age that leadership training begins at is 42, which leaves a large gap between the formative years of a person’s career until the time they evolve to a supervisory or management role.

When we ask organisations what age they believe leadership development should begin, the answer is usually 21.

So is leadership training only recommended for management positions? 
Not at all, leadership is everyone’s business. Leadership should be developed at every level in an organisation and requires ongoing practice.

Does this mean a decentralised approach is better for businesses?
It’s shortsighted and very limiting for organisations to have a culture where its ‘Leadership’ comes from the ‘C-suites’, CEO, CFO, etc., or ‘top management’. Where there is a culture of ‘leadership at all levels’, organisations perform more effectively.

And there is greater commitment and increased engagement amongst employees, higher commitment to productivity, reduced turnover and absenteeism. 

Leaders – at all levels - should be looking at ‘how can we improve, and what can we do differently to get a better result’.

Leaders also need to develop an environment where everyone learns from mistakes. Rather than punitive responses, leaders should be saying “Who made a mistake this week?” This encourages an environment where everyone learns from mistakes, rather than having people deny or hide their mistakes.


Graham Moore, the first Certified Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge

Could this sort of thinking lead to clashes and confusion within an organisation?
Peter Drucker, the American organisational ‘guru’ said, “Only three things occur naturally in organisations: conflict, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

Clashes usually only occur where there is a misalignment to the values and vision of the organisation.

Miscommunication and ambiguity of job roles and responsibilities may also contribute. Those who lead find opportunities to demonstrate their skills and expertise within their role and gain support from their peers. And of course, people must be recognised – in a meaningful and genuine way – when they ‘go beyond’ what is the normal level of performance, when they excel.

Everyone responds to positive encouragement. This recognition can be from their team leader – or all the way to the CEO. Leaders enable others to act.

We know that people perform at their best when they’re challenged when their level of self-determination is increased, and they’re given opportunities to go beyond what even they believed they were capable of achieving.

What do you think sets leaders like Jack Welch or Sir Richard Branson apart?
Both Jack and Sir Richard are brilliant and charismatic leaders. They are experts in their subject areas, genuine and passionate about what they do. For me, one of the most important things - in both cases - is that they develop leaders within their organisations. In many ways, they do this by what we call Modelling the Way – or ‘walking the talk’. 

Do fear and insecurity play a role in stifling leadership?
Absolutely, fear-and-power-based leadership stifles creativity and simply doesn’t work. A culture of engagement promotes healthy competition and helps develop competence, which is then recognised and rewarded through the system and creates opportunities. 

Success breeds success, and this is what we aim for with The Leadership Challenge. 

Do we need more dominant leaders in uncertain times?
Well, we need better leaders in uncertain times. We need leaders who engage their people.

Our research shows that companies who engage in transformational leadership achieve significantly more than those who are still operating from a transactional approach.

Effective leaders have a clear vision and can execute their ideas, leading by example. This is especially important during periods of change.

As we know most people are resistant to change, and therefore a leader must be able to communicate efficiently and win the hearts and minds of their people, inspiring confidence and action. 

We often talk about Change Management. What is far more effective is Change Leadership.

What is the single, most common opportunity for business leaders?

Simple. Create an environment where people love coming to ‘work’. Excite them about the ‘possibilities’ that lie ahead. Develop others, letting go of the need to ‘micro-manage’, and to empower employees at all levels. And celebrate the achievement.  

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