change management how receptive are you

Traditional definitions of leadership need to change

Traditional definitions of great leadership need to change.  In an agile market, things morph very quickly. Structures no longer follow historic practices. Clients and customers have more control. Therefore, qualities leaders need to demonstrate today are often very different, although the basis is broadly similar. We aren’t necessarily throwing out the baby with the bathwater!


So what do we need to see in a leader that marks them out as great? And can we still rely on the usual qualities we find in most articles?

1. Trustworthy

2. Exemplary character

3. Enthusiasm

4. Well organized

5. Confident

6. Analytic

7. Committed to excellence

8. Positive

9. Realistic

10. Tolerant

11. Patient

12. Calm

No one is going to disagree with this list but surely these qualities are just a part of the whole. Yes, these attributes form solid foundations. However, even using that  ‘foundation’ metaphor can literally and metaphorically ground us in anachronistic approaches that don’t fit with now.

‘Enthusiasm just creates bubbles; it doesn’t keep them from popping.’ Adora Svitak

What do I mean? Being lean, agile, creative, proactive and reactive are key characteristics of the contemporary business arena. It’s hard to be rooted in practice, history, tradition etc. when business decisions need to be smart, rapid, creative and futurist. How does a leader exude confidence while being capable of changing course at a moment’s notice?

Radical solutions in aggressive markets need strong leaders 

For example, look at the appointment of Dave Lewis as Tesco CEO last year. At that time, straight from Unilever, he knew nothing about retailing. It might, therefore, seem a strange appointment. Were Tesco looking for radical solutions in an aggressive market. Unilever, however, were a leading supplier to Tesco, so, therefore, Lewis would have a keen eye for a price war.’

After a year in the job, what qualities of great leadership has he exhibited? Ruthlessness might be one. Having shut 43 stores and canceled future plans for another 49; as well as closing Tesco HQ at Cheshunt, stopped dividend payments and the defined pension benefit scheme the evidence is pretty clear. Tradition means nothing if it’s not paying its way.

But this leads me on to the notion of leaders being very much one of the team. After the Black Friday embarrassing debacle, Lewis took over  the day-to-day running of Tesco. This comes from a man with no retail experience. How will he have carried this off? Imagine the controversy, gossip, and bad feeling that would have probably emanated at every level. However, when the whole team is honest, strong, provocative, knowledgeable and trusting final decisions are often accepted when thinking and discussions are crystal clear. Therefore, the ability of a leader to value other knowledgeable workers’ experience, know how and/ or intellect is vital. The days of leaders appointing unthreatening colleagues have passed. Therefore, I am suggesting great leaders, and leaders in general, adopt other aspects to their list of required qualities.

Additional Leadership Qualities for the contemporary leader

1. Valuing alternative perspectives – empower others

2. Being open minded about untried, left field solutions

3. Seek advice and listen to it objectively

4. A full team player

5. Trust emotions and instinct

6. Trust your creativity and be a risk taker

7. Curiosity

8. Be passionate to the point of obsession

9. Perseverance

10. Hunger

11. Foolishness and humor

12. Difference

Leaders need to read people and situations rapidly. The need for self-knowledge has never been greater. Arianna Huffington is quoted as saying:

‘Don’t necessarily stick to the strategies that enabled you to succeed in the earliest days of your venture….disrupt your own patterns…to encourage more opportunities.’

It would have been easy for Tesco to continue in the same vein. 

Yet, after an accountancy scandal and falling sales, disruption was inevitable. Thus showing that no matter how embedded a business might be in a nation’s consciousness their loyalty needs to be constantly hard –earned and that definitely is a change ever leader needs to acknowledge.

Look for the stories beneath the stories

Having the passion to see through an idea, in all its phases is a must, but most of all the ability to always ask questions and listen for connections and the stories behind the story will always mark out a great leader.

What do you think? What qualities have marked out great leaders in your experience?

Further Reading:

Thompson G & Mellor D W Inspirational Game Changers (Financial Times Publishing)

The Guardian

You May Also Be Interested In...

difficulty with leadership tough at the top

Difficulty with Leadership – It’s lonely at the top?

Sorry, No Sympathy Mourinho! It’s easy to think that financial rewards, status and all the trappings of leadership are an attractive compensation for being the…

Read more

VAT should i register for VAT

“Should I register for VAT?”

Is a common question raised with me by new startups. The answer is not always clear-cut, explains Andy Tree, Associate Director for TechVentures.London and MD…

Read more

startup success 5 ways to test your startup is going to be a success

5 ways to test if your startup is going to be a success

There is a palpable excitement in the air when you walk around Tech City in London. There’s a frenzy of activity as entrepreneurs leverage technology…

Read more