11 top tips on being a successful leader

Written by
Harry Puckering

20 Jan 2016

20 Jan 2016 • by Harry Puckering

Successful leaders are ones who ARE but also DO. These eleven behaviours will help leaders maintain a competitive edge and shift the organisation into fifth gear.

How would you identify a great leader?

Make a list of famous (and infamous) effective leaders in any field, at any time in history. This is already a pretty select list, representing a tiny proportion of the human population. Then count the number of them who were dynamic, visionary and charismatic- a vanishingly small group. Even among that group, as many lead their people to disasters and terrible outcomes as to successes. We – ordinary people who want to lead well – cannot really learn from them.

John Adair had the right idea when he talked about action-centred leadership. He said that effective leadership is as much about what we DO as what we ARE. He explained the eight activities that leaders undertake:

Great leaders define problems, issues and tasks

A successful leader will use critifcal thinking and decision makingidentify and name the current priorities. They will focus on the questions that can be answered and on the work that produces the greatest benefits.

Leadership and planning

Planning is vital. Leaders need to plan the strategies and tactics, the policies and procedures that guide action. It's about making a 'road map' and p0utting things in the right order.

Briefing and delegation

Effective briefing means explaining and delegating work to people so they know exactly what they need to do, why they need to do it, how it will be assessed and when it’s needed.

Maintaining control as a leader

Effective control means directing and coaching people’s work while they do it. Leaders ensure that quality and energy levels are kept up and that standards are met.

Evaluating as a leader

Evaluating means monitoring, measuring, assessing and appraising work while it happens (formative) and after it's finished (summative). Evaluation is undertaken in order to learn from successes and failures and apply that learning in future work.

Motivational leadership

As a leader, being motivational means keeping people (including leaders themselves) focussed, confident and committed to the work. Leaders remember that no matter how important work is, it is being undertaken by people with physiological, psychological and social needs.

Organisational leadership

Being well-organised as a leader means putting the right people and resources onto the right tasks at the right time.

Setting a good example as a leader

Setting an example means being the person you want your people to emulate. As a leader you will role-model the behaviour you need from your team.

Adair argued that the more time, energy and intelligence leaders devoted to these activities, the more effective they would be. But there’s a problem; performing all these activities well takes practice, and even then, people differ in their ability to do them well.

And Adair – who based much of his theories on the old certainties of his military experience and his strong religious faith – missed out on three more activities, the need for which has become more evident in the modern, fast-moving and ever-changing world. These are:

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is Blanchard and Hersey’s idea of the need for leaders to change their behaviour to match the needs of their people and the circumstances they are in. Leaders balance the amount of direction and support they give to individuals in their team, based on the competence and commitment of those individuals on particular tasks at particular times.

Authenticity in leadership

Leadership authenticity is Goffee and Jones’ idea that leaders need to ‘be yourself – more – with skill’. Having integrity in thought, deed and words that is as evident under pressure as it is when leaders are relaxed.  Having a balanced and secure set of morals and ethics, critical thinking and social skills that can be drawn upon whatever the circumstances. Thinking on your feet.

Building diverse teams

Building diverse teams relates to recruiting, selecting, retaining and developing people who have different and complementary sets of qualities and competencies to the leader. This is a leader’s best insurance policy. If leaders can’t undertake all of the previous ten activities at an equally high level, then someone else in their team can do the stuff they cannot.

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