Search for “leadership” on Amazon and you will be invited to purchase more than 117,000 books on the subject. It’s been a prominent item of discussion in business improvement circles for decades. 

This is not without good reason though, with effective leadership being a centrepiece of businesses that consistently achieve success. I often say that effective leadership is one of those “Do not pass go, do not collect $200” items in business – if you don’t already have it, you need to somehow get it! 

It is after all the leaders within the business that set the vision, values and the strategy, define the expectations and “set the tone” for the business. Based on this, and within the context of the culture of the business, team members produce, market/sell and deliver goods and services to customers and clients, which ultimately determines the success or otherwise of the business. 

Consider the evidence:

  • Businesses regarded as “effective people managers” have 35% higher revenue per employee (PwC)
  • 37% of people say they have left a job because of poor leadership (Institute for Strategic Change, Harvard Business School) 
  • Engaged employees deliver 50% higher sales and 50% higher customer loyalty (Gallup) 
  • 62% of Australian workers believe that recognition and acknowledgment alone is enough to drive greater levels of productivity in tough times (Red Balloon) 

Having supported plenty of leaders in many businesses across diverse industries over the years (and having studied a fair selection of the books available on the subject, though admittedly not the full 117,000!), it’s clear that the most effective leaders share some common attributes in terms of how they lead others (note that I’m talking here about leading others. Additional key capabilities and experience relating to financial management, planning, industry and product/service knowledge etc.. are assumed). 

Here’s a sample of the common attributes of the most effective leaders I’ve had the good fortune to work with: 

  • Vision and Strategic Capability: The best leaders don’t just know where they are going, they are able to paint a picture of the destination that is clear and attractive enough to encourage others to contribute to its achievement. Of course, being able to work with others to determine and navigate the path that will get you there is also key to success. 
  • Authenticity: People have a strong preference to be led by others who are “like them”. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to work in a business where a few times a week during lunch a number of us would head to a park and play touch football. I remember well the occasion when we were getting showered/dressed after the game and one of the younger guys remarked with genuine amazement that one of the Directors who had joined us for a game that day, “seemed almost human, just like us!”. Yes, it’s true, effective leaders also put on their socks one at a time! 
  • Valuing “Whole” People: There’s more to all of us than what we do and achieve at work. Effective leaders recognise and value the fact that people have skills, attributes and priorities that extend beyond their direct contribution to the workplace. At a practical level, this means that effective leaders engage in occasional conversation beyond work, accept that their team members need to sometimes attend to family and other responsibilities, and they are skilled at identifying and perhaps even utilising hidden talents (Company Glee Club anyone!?!). 
  • Preference for Collaboration: The most effective leaders will consult regularly with others in their team. Consider the power of the unspoken signals being sent by a leader who provides regular opportunity for collaboration: “I value your opinion”, “I don’t have all the answers”, “We’re in this together”, for example. 
  • Know when to Take Control: While most people will respond best to those with a preference for collaboration, they also want a leader who is able to take control and be decisive if things are heading off course. Calling a team meeting and inviting suggestions as the ship is steaming toward the iceberg is not a recipe for success! 
  • Self-Aware: While being a “Jack(or Jill)-of-all-trades” is often a necessary capability of business owners in the early days, it is rarely the best long-term strategy. Wise leaders in growing businesses understand this, are aware of and focus on what they are best at and connect with others (internally and externally) that are able to support them in those other areas. Together, the right people with the right capabilities, led effectively will drive business success. 

While not exhaustive, this list should at least provide some food for thought for those business owners and managers looking to improve performance.