What is leadership?
Great leaders inspire those they lead to accomplish great things.
While the leadership of an organisation primarily rests with its senior executives and board, reaching one of these positions doesn’t automatically equip someone with the core skills and attributes they need to be a successful leader.
Instances of ineffective and destructive leadership are easy to come by, but it is good leadership that really sets an organisation apart and distinguishes those businesses that are led effectively - by leaders with the right intentions and a desire to make a positive impact, from those that are not.
The benefits of good leadership
There is clear evidence of a relationship between the leadership capability within an organisation and an organisation’s health and performance.
The benefits of good leadership can be demonstrated by an organisation’s ability to achieve its vision and employees who are engaged, empowered and working towards a common goal.
The more skilled an organisation’s leaders, the more innovative it is, and the more engaged and committed are its people.
In today’s fast-moving business environment, the job of leadership has never been more important.
The qualities and behaviours of effective leaders
The question of what makes a good leader, or what core skills and attributes a good leader possesses, is widely debated.
Every successful leader has their own personal style of leadership that influences how they lead and the culture and direction of their organisation.
But while there are countless qualities of a good leader and types of leadership, certain behaviours are always appropriate.
Good leaders are trusted and respected:
Trust is the foundation of strong leadership. Effective leaders build trust and earn and maintain the respect of those they lead through consistency, effective communication and action.
Good leaders set the tone from the top:
Effective leaders understand that what they say, how they act, what they prioritise, and how they measure is what leads to effective outcomes.
Good leaders disrupt themselves:
Modern leaders must be nimble and adaptive and constantly scan the horizon for threats and opportunities, externally but also internally in the people they lead. They can see how things could be improved and can harness and develop the resources and opportunities available to them to achieve their vision.
Good leaders are flexible:
There is no one right way to lead in all situations, so it is important that leaders have the flexibility and ability to draw on different leadership qualities and adapt to different circumstances.
Good leaders motivate others:
Successful leaders are characterised by their ability to empower, motivate and inspire the people they lead. They are proficient at facilitating group collaboration and using their influence to champion meaningful outcomes.
Good leaders have empathy:
In today’s business environment, which is characterised by the growing lack of trust in leadership, successful leaders are those who demonstrate genuine concern for the people they impact and can move towards their vision while putting people first. Motivating and influencing isn’t enough, they must be empathetic and connect with people to be successful.
Good leaders tread their own path:
Effective leaders don’t come from the same background or follow the same path. Their diverse backgrounds bring new perspectives and new ways of thinking to the teams and organisations they lead.
Leadership in the boardroom
In their capacity as board members, non-executive directors function as leaders of an organisation.
Their specific leadership role will vary according to the type of board they are on and the requirements of the business. On the board of a startup, for example, it could be more of a mentoring role where they are called on to leverage their experience or networks in a particular sector to benefit the company. When joining the board of an established business, non-executive directors will generally oversee the strategy, performance and risk of the organisation and use their business insights and experience to assess potential issues, opportunities, stakeholder considerations etc from an objective standpoint that is not obscured by being involved in the day to day running of the business. There is also plenty of middle ground where directors can contribute particular expertise to work closely with management for the benefit of the organisation.
Non-executive directors are effectively ‘leaders of leaders’, who oversee the strategic aspects of a business, without trying to run the business, while at the same time developing its leadership team.
The chair of the board
The chair of the board is a vital leadership figure for any organisation. Businesses whose boards have a strong chair with the skills and capabilities to lead the board and the CEO effectively have consistently produced a higher level of organisational performance.
The role of the chair is different to that of other board members and requires a different set of skills. The chair must first and foremost be a skilled facilitator. They must be able to take a step back and ensure all board members contribute, that the discussion and questioning is focused and productive, that differing viewpoints are unearthed and synthesised, and ultimately that the board comes to a decision. They also set the tone in terms of what is accepted and expected of board members.
The most successful chairs ensure that their directors and CEO are engaged, are across the issues, are making effective and responsible decisions, and are inspired to use their talents to add value and drive organisational performance.
Being a chair is no easy feat and the effectiveness of a board or committee is significantly impacted by the leadership skills, nous and experience of its chair.
Given boards generally only meet a few times a year, this is an ongoing challenge for the chair and involves being clear about expectations and ensuring effective ongoing communication.
How can we help?
The AICD offers a range of content and professional development to helps chairs and directors fine-tune their leadership skills.
Our content ranges from tips for effective leadership through to interviews with high-profile experienced directors and thought leaders who offer their insights into leadership today and the emerging challenges for leaders of the future.
We also offer thought leadership pieces including the critical importance of future-focused thinking in today’s rapidly evolving environment, how directors can develop their leadership skills in this area, and the consequences for leaders and organisations that don’t adapt and evolve.