Are you a good leader or a great one?

Throughout history there have been great leaders of industry who have revolutionised our lives, leaders of military forces who have won famous battles and leaders of countries who have changed whole societies.

Likewise not-so-great leaders permeate our history and can unfortunately have a far more lasting effect on our lives than the great ones. Poor leaders have caused the collapse of companies and institutions, caused atrocities in the name of freedom and created hardship for millions of their people.

In business, as in all walks of life, there are people who really shouldn’t be leaders. They may have inherited their position, or been in the right place at the right time, or perhaps just knew the right people.

Of course a leader needs to be confident, be able to communicate, manage a team of people and be able to make pretty important decisions. But what separates an average leader from a good leader from a great leader?


Historically, people sought guidance and inspiration from religious leaders, political leaders and even “celebrities”. In recent times and for those above certain age and intelligence, the honour has passed from the likes of David Beckham and winners of Big Brother to business leaders such as Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and some dragons. Business leaders are the new celebrities and have become some of the most influential members of society.

Good business leaders have a responsibility to their shareholders and focus on the vision and strategies of their company to grow market share and increase revenue and profit. Great business leaders also assign focus and effort into another part of their company. They understand that getting this part right will have a dramatic positive effect on the success of their business. They also focus on their people.


Most people have a job, working for an employer for around a third of their day, most days a week. Work is a huge part of our lives and should be an enjoyable, positive experience. “The way we make a living, the jobs we have, and the way our work is rewarded have tremendous bearing on our lives, making them exciting and rewarding, or dull and anxious.”1

Whether CEOs of thousands or managers of a few, business leaders need to recognise the responsibility they have for the wellbeing of their people.  Strong leaders know that their company’s most important asset is its people. They know the importance of sharing their vision and goals, not just with their customers and the press but with their teams. They make sure that their messages reach all of their people at all levels of the company.

Great leaders are great listeners; they listen to their clients, their peers and their people. They foster an environment where every person in the company can have a say, has the opportunity to present an idea, to be taken seriously and made to feel that they are an important part of the company.

So, if you’re an ok leader can you be a good leader? If you’re a good leader, can you be a great one? And if you’re not currently a leader or manager could you become one? Do you possess the inherent qualities beyond the usual business skills needed to meet commercial targets?

At all stages of our career we should strive to improve, to learn, to question the way things are done and to explore the potential to improve. The best leaders will have the strength to admit that they don’t know everything. Ask your customers and your people what they want; too many leaders simply decide what they want.

In these current difficult times, where companies all over are reducing their workforce, it’s critically important that the skills of those remaining are invested in and improved upon. In good or bad times growing your internal talent will increase the loyalty and commitment of your people and give you a competitive advantage.

“Employers who retain their staff and develop their workforce are best placed to respond to economic recovery because they have the talent to innovate and the expertise to maintain successful customer relationships.  In fact, employers that don’t invest in training are 2½ times more likely to fail.2

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1  “Good Business”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

2  “Training and Establishment Survival”, Sector Skills Development Agency March 2007.