How To Be A Great Leader

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Sir Winston Churchill is widely considered to have been one of Britain’s greatest leaders.

An executive coach suggests three features of great leadership.

“Toil and risk are the price of glory, but it is a lovely thing to live with courage and die leaving an everlasting fame” — Alexander the Great.

Leadership is undoubtedly one of the most important and valuable qualities we can ever seek to possess. More so in the challenging and competitive world that we live in. So, how do we teach ourselves to be a great leader and what might we learn from one of the finest leaders in history, who certainly died, as we all may wish, leaving everlasting fame?

When I work with leaders around the world, from some of the largest multinationals to small start-ups, I always start with the three essential features of great leadership

Leadership is often a thankless task. It’s isolated, lonely, challenging and often unrewarded. Leaders are looked to as idols but are responsible when things go wrong. In such extreme circumstances the first place to start, as the famed Delphic Oracle stated, is ‘know thyself’.

A simple starting point is honestly observing our strengths and weaknesses. Then playing more to our strengths, which we find energising and motivating, while knowing our weaknesses reduces fear, self-doubt and risk.

At the heart of leadership is having a good team. In a practical sense leaders should think on three key levels of gathering a team.

First, create a ‘shadow board’: a group of trusted advisors, formal and informal, who can lend support to the different aspects of the organisation. This can be most valuable in any areas of perceived self-weakness.

Next come the ‘core commanders’ and this is where the greatest investment is required. These are the immediate set of operational leaders responsible for delivering the mission objectives. They will also be a key source of organisational knowledge and strategy.

Finally, comes the entire organisation.

In an army, when the footsoldiers are on side and raring to go, they need a clear direction in which to charge. Envisioning the outcome provides just that. A clearly stated, bold and exciting objective that is going to motivate and transform all that raw talent into meaningful activity.

Importantly, this can’t just be an intellectual idea. It needs to excite a clear emotional feeling that the troops can get attached to. Sometimes asking this of a logical, ‘left-brain’ leader feels unnatural. They need to tap into the more imaginative, creative, right side of the brain. Bold objectives became popularised in modern business in From Good to Great by Jim Collins. He suggested leaders create hairy audacious goals (HAGs) to focus on. It’s an idea that has stuck and is still effective many years later.

Visionary in his time, Alexander the Great created a clear, emotional outcome, deploying it with his characteristically powerful rhetorical skills: “All the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for as Greeks we should not be slaves to barbarians.”

And if those three essential features of great leadership all seem a bit much, break them down into manageable, bite-size chunks that are achievable and bring a sense of fulfilment. As Alexander the Great concluded: “There is nothing impossible to him that will try.”

Andrew Stead is an executive coach based in APAC. More information can be found at

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