What does it take to be a good leader?

We can all name someone we believe to be a good, or even great, leader, even if some names might invite disagreement if you ask a reasonably diverse selection of people. Ask a staunch Tory about the leadership ability of Margaret Thatcher, for example, and you will likely get a very different response than would be the case if you asked a trade unionist in East Durham.

The recent cross-party appreciation shown for Charles Kennedy, following his death, was a rare show of universal approval across the political spectrum. It was accepted on that occasion that you don’t have to agree with someone’s views, political or otherwise, to appreciate their qualities as a leader.

When considering those qualities that make a leader, it is important to note that the abilities and actions of a good manager are not necessarily the same. This is something we can all see illustrated in the world of sport, for example. A leader on the field doesn’t always make a good manager, once they retire from playing.

All of this from politics and sport translate into the workplace.

What does one look for when trying to identify a good business or team leader, either from within the ranks of an own organisation or from without?

As mentioned, the ability to do a job is not the defining factor in determining the talent of a leader, but they do have to be good at the role as, without a demonstrable track record, others will fail to follow.

Leaders have the ability to inspire, to take others along on their journey, and to be credible. A good leader makes people sit up and listen, then follow, not by shouting the odds, but through the power of persuasion.

But what is persuasion? Cambridge Dictionaries defines persuasion as “to make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to that person and making them believe it”.

A great leader will encourage and allow creativity and innovation, as well as have the specific knowledge to enable others in this area.

They will demonstrate fairness and personal connections with those they lead, including understanding of when it is appropriate and conducive to good performance to blur the boundaries between professional and personal relationships.

However, having great leaders within your ranks can be a double-edged sword. Most businesses want leaders who can take people with them, but not if they walk away from the company. If a good leader has a team they trust, there is a danger that they will want to rebuild that team if they move employment.

Yes, a restrictive covenant can discourage that, by forbidding a departing employee from approaching or enticing away a colleague. However, restrictive covenants need to be handled with care to ensure they are both enforceable and also that they do not alienate an employee.

Recognising a good leader in the recruitment or promotion process is hugely important. Getting that appointment wrong can make the difference between the success and failure of a company or project.

One person does not, in most circumstances, define a company, but a leader has an effect – positive or negative – on those beneath them and that is why they are so vital to a business. Get it right and you are off to a great start, get it wrong at your peril.

Richard Hogg is Director of Jackson Hogg Recruitment, a specialist recruitment firm providing high quality, innovative recruitment solutions to industries seeking exceptional talent. Jackson Hogg specialises in working with clients in the Energy (oil and gas, renewable, power generation, nuclear), Engineering and Manufacturing, and Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals sectors.