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Tuesday 23rd June 2015

What is leadership - Is it the preserve of those right at the top?

There is no one agreed definition for leadership, but a suggested one is: ‘the capacity to establish direction, to influence and align others towards a common aim, to motivate and commit others to action, and to encourage them to feel responsible for their performance’ – so by its very definition this doesn’t just have to be the preserve of the ‘boss’, managers at all levels have a part to play in this.

So how can you cultivate those Leadership skills?  Here is a quick checklist:

1. Be clear what the difference between management and leadership is

There is some disagreement about the differences between management and leadership, and some experts consider that there is no distinction while others think the two should be separated. Most would agree, however, that managers and supervisors need some leadership ability. While definitions of both areas vary, you need to be clear and think out your own approach to the subject before you can work to improve your leadership skills.

A common definition of the differences is:

·         management is about the day-to-day running of a function and getting the right people in the right place, with a focus upon implementation

  • leadership is about creating a vision for that function and gaining people's commitment by providing strategic direction.

2. Be clear about where you are now

Are you comfortable with the idea of being a leader? If not, where do you think your weaknesses lie? Many people - especially those who have been promoted because they have a technical skill - feel uncomfortable about leadership. But think about yourself as a leader: consider whether you think that leadership is alien to your character; whether you may lack the authority and respect to be a leader; or whether you feel that it is only more senior managers who should be leaders.

Remember that everyone can learn how to develop their leadership potential - authority and respect are there to be earned. Today, people at all levels are expected to show leadership qualities.

3. Downplay charisma

Charisma used to be seen as the key to a leader's success, but its existence is not taken very seriously by most experts today, and it is viewed as something of a blunt instrument. The trouble with relying on charisma is that it can be destructive, and tends to dominate people. Organisations today need empowered people who can make their own decisions rather than slavish followers who look to a leader for guidance and direction at every turn.

4. Recognise the different needs of people

You will need to work at developing a range of leadership styles and matching your leadership style to the situation and the people. Different staff will need different kinds of leadership:

  • with people who fail to take responsibility, you will need to take a directional style, giving strict targets and ensuring that you monitor these
  • staff who lack confidence, but show potential, will benefit from a coaching approach
  • with talented but underachieving employees, lead through communication, and get them performing better through involving them in the decision making, and supporting them in taking the initiative
  • ‘star’ performers who are already fully competent need to be appreciated, and left alone to get on with the job.

Situational leadership theory gives a good basis from which to understand the need to work at acquiring different leadership styles.

5. Build up a range of leadership attributes that confirm you as a leader in the eyes of your people

Demonstrable leadership attributes that will help you to lead others include:

  • developing and demonstrating good work habits
  • understanding and valuing your staff's work
  • working hard at handling pressure
  • clearly demonstrating the values you hold dear
  • encouraging your staff's enthusiasm
  • providing regular feedback
  • listening and learning.

6. Get the communication right

Getting the right mix of communication is vital.  People will get to know what you expect, can understand if they have done well or badly, and feel that they are able to give you feedback on your own performance.

Most research into what makes a good leader stresses that leaders communicate - and communicate - all the time.

7. Work hard at empowering your staff

You need to provide support and confidence to help staff to achieve things for themselves. Today's leaders work at creating the right environment and circumstances so that staff can take real ownership of their work. Are you courageous enough to trust your people to do a good job, and to show faith in them? If you are, and can still give them a sense of vision and guidance when they need it, then they will see you as their leader.


And finally what should managers avoid?

  • behaving in a domineering way
  • thinking that leaders have to come up with all the ideas - or are the only ones who have ideas
  • relying on charisma
  • refusing to listen to their staff.

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