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The hallmarks of good leadership

John Glenny of MERC Partners talks about the qualities great leaders bring to successful organisations

John Glenny, partner, MERC Partners: “Good leaders need to know their team members and employees personally. They understand them, know what drives them and are aware of what’s going on in their lives – both in work and outside of it.”

John Glenny, partner, MERC Partners: “Good leaders need to know their team members and employees personally. They understand them, know what drives them and are aware of what’s going on in their lives – both in work and outside of it.”

 

Every business can benefit from outstanding leadership during good times and bad. Of course, great leaders tend to stand out more during times of crisis but they are still needed regardless of how benign the business or economic environment.

There is, however, a world of difference between a great manager and a great leader. Great managers can be experts in particular areas or high-performing generalists who can achieve goals and objectives in even the most adverse of circumstances. Those goals and objectives tend to be set by the leaders, however.

And for managers and employees to achieve them, they need to be motivated and inspired. The ability to motivate and inspire are the key characteristics that set great leaders apart, according to John Glenny, partner with MERC Partners.

Emotional intelligence is another. “Good leaders need to know their team members and employees personally,” he says. “They understand them, know what drives them and are aware of what’s going on in their lives – both in work and outside of it. Before you can motivate people, you need to understand them as individual human beings. Good leaders will rarely ask their teams to do things that they aren’t willing to do themselves. Good leaders are particularly conscious of the optics of their actions. They realise that their activity – or inactivity – will be scrutinised by team members. They can’t just be seen when things are going well for the business, they have to be out there to the fore doing the difficult things during the challenging times as well.”

Good leaders are also strong communicators, Glenny adds. “They understand that information vacuums simply create fear, uncertainty and doubt among employees. Early and appropriate communication of the problems which face the business will help focus the team on what needs to be done rather than on the potential negative consequences.”

Motivation requires clarity, he believes. “Good leaders are particularly adept at getting people to understand what is required. They aren’t vague and are very clear about what needs to be done. They are also able to appeal to emotions at the right level and people prefer to be motivated by positive emotions. The use of fear of the consequences of not doing something is very negative and can have poor outcomes. Good leaders can inspire a sense of pride in people in relation to what can be achieved.”

Ability to inspire

That ability to inspire is every bit as important, he adds. “The characteristics and reputation of a leader are critically important. A leader can’t inspire others if they don’t project as being an inspired person themselves. They need to be passionate about what needs to be done. They will generally encourage people to be the best they can be and make people want to do the best job they can. Inspiration is about empowering and trusting people and good leaders understand that micromanagement can be counterproductive.”

This isn’t to say that tough targets shouldn’t be set. “People need to feel stretched and taken out of their comfort zone if they are to enjoy a sense of achievement,” Glenny explains. “Sitting around doing stuff that’s well within your capabilities is neither motivating nor inspiring.”

It is also important to set out strategies and goals in terms which employees can relate to. Abstractions like improvements in profitability, margins or return on capital invested, whilst very important, are unlikely to set the pulses racing. They might also tend to be seen as benefitting others – such as shareholders rather than the people working in the business.

“Employees have to see the benefits for them and for the business as a whole,” says Glenny. “And it’s up to the leader to explain and sell those benefits which can include enhanced experience, improved career opportunities, and perhaps a more secure future for everyone involved. Smart leaders are able to engender and reinforce a sense of optimism. They can create situations where optimism can be infectious and pervasive with great benefits for morale and for business performance.”

These are things good leaders do all the time. But they tend to stand out in a crisis for a number of reasons. “Good leaders act promptly, but they don’t rush,” says Glenny. “They understand that more haste often means less speed. Above all, they don’t create panic in the organisation. They take time to understand the situation. They develop a strategy which has clear objectives and milestones to reach. And, of paramount importance, they demonstrate control of the strategy at all times – this helps motivate and inspire the team responsible for its implementation.”