What does great leadership mean to you?

It’s a question I ask of all the people I screen when assessing leadership talent for clients. Having interviewed circa 10,000 people, I have had the opportunity to listen to many responses. My experience suggests a very strong correlation between leadership excellence – delivering the business plan, and the following responses.

Putting employee ‘well-being’ at the top of your leadership agenda.

Great leaders ensure the well-being of their employees is at the top of their leadership priority list.

My experience suggests great leadership is about ‘showing you care’, caring for your people, their well-being, their safety, their development and caring about how you provide the right environment to enable people to perform. Leaders who get this right, create a positive work environment helping secure engagement, collective spirit, and the support and commitment to ensuring the organisation delivers against its business plan.

Effective leadership is based on an understanding that employee well-being requires that you recognise when things are not right and realise that it affects everyone and are clear that your responsibility as a leader to do something about it. A CEO once said to me ‘’Leaders owe it to everyone else to remove toxins and dysfunction and create a great place to work. If you allow a bad environment, the good people are the first to suffer. There are just some things that no one else can really do and you have to take care of those things’’.

Good leaders set the tone in an organisation by operating as role models and by leading by example. A business with a high employee well-being score is one that ‘connects’ best with its employees, enabling alignment around a vision and purpose and creating a positive atmosphere. All these combine to optimise business performance.

I find it useful to ask candidates to rank their company’s ‘employee well-being’ score and to explain to me how this was/is achieved.

A member of the team.

Effective leaders tend to be humble and recognise that their ability to deliver the plan is all about the quality of their team and their people recruitment, retention, reward and development strategy
A retired CEO once said to me, “I may have been the team leader, but clearly recognise I was a member of the team. Although my role was different, it was no more important than that of my CFO or my CPO. Without real competence and real excellence in the disciplines of finance – risk management, governance and business partnering and people development, performance management, succession and reward I would not have been an effective CEO”.

The CEO remarked, “when you have highly competent people to work with, who know more than you do, have better insights, ideas, energy….. it is an absolutely marvellous place to be. Think about it, who wouldn’t want to have Lionel Messi and other great players in the team”.

Recruiting and retaining exceptional talent, appointing people who are better than you and who are prepared to challenge and contribute is an absolute MUST for effective leadership. Ensuring you have succession is key.

I find it useful to discuss an individual’s role in a team and how they appoint, motivate, performance manage and retain, and get the best from great people.

Leave a lasting legacy.

Great leaders ensure they always leave a lasting legacy.

A retired chairman once remarked “great leadership is about leaving behind a ‘lasting legacy’. It really is about delivering the plan”.She was clear that leaders stand and fall by their ability to achieve business plan objectives. She advised me to listen to individuals that respond to the ‘what are you really good at, what are you most proud of?’ question. She suggested a strong correlation between leaders that lead with the consequence of their leadership tenure first, followed by the process of achieving this outcome. For example ‘during my tenure as CEO the share price increased by 15%….. this was achieved by……’.

She stressed the importance of making sure that everyone knows what it is that the organisation is trying to do and everyone’s role in achieving this. “When people have lots of context and understanding of the nuances (not just instructions), it makes their jobs much easier to do and their lives much better. It empowers people to be agile and creative. They don’t have to check everything upwards, because they know what needs to be done and they know that they have the latitude to do it’’.

I always ask people to let me know what they would like to be remembered for and seek a response that confirms consequence and outcomes first. My interviews always validate a candidates ability to communicate the direction of travel and his/her teams role in achieving this.

As part of my candidate validation process I always cover well-being, team, succession, legacy and communication with all leadership interviews I undertake. The candidates I place typically score highly on these five criteria and post appointment nearly always deliver the plan.

A CEO once said to me “care about the people you work with and help them to be successful and don’t be a know it all (because you don’t know it all)”.


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