What Makes A True Leader

Leadership ducklings

I’ve had a few people ask me recently what leadership means to me, and what I believe makes a good leader.

To me leadership is a way of life. It is both an instinct and an attitude, and it is ageless. By this I mean true leadership qualities come naturally, often develop at an early age, and last a lifetime. Leadership certainly doesn’t come with a job title. I guess I could say my leadership journey started when I was chosen as captain of the netball team in primary school. Ok, so that role didn’t come with massive responsibility, but it does make you think – what did the coach see in me to put me in that spot? And in today’s competitive environment, how do employers identify the real leaders to take their businesses forward, as opposed to the people who are just chasing the money and that flashy job title?

I believe that to a genuine leader, leadership is a tap he or she finds difficult to turn off. It is something that runs through every aspect of his or her life; it’s intrinsic in both the work and home environments. To be an effective leader though, you must choose to lead. You must consciously adopt a mindset of inspiration, transformation and influence. Leadership is about connecting, and acting on your desire to make a difference. It takes dedication and discipline. It is a constant balancing act. You must make time to listen, observe, reflect and dream.

A good leader recognises that everything we do is open to scrutiny and interpretation. From the things we say, to our body language or facial expressions, we are essentially a book that team members are constantly trying to read. We must be ready to ensure that your every day actions are consistent with our words, and we must be ready to accept that, as a leader, we are not afforded any ‘bad hair days’ or amygdila hijacks’. Unfortunately my first leader did not subscribe to the same beliefs. In fact, through her words and actions she had an incredibly negative influence over the team, adopting a ‘divide and conquer’ approach – something I have been conscious never to replicate.

There is no doubt that leadership is challenging. It is selfless. It is lonely. You must be ready to have courageous conversations, be sure to make informed decisions and not act on assumptions. Transparency and open communication is essential to building the trust of your team and you must always look forward, as a leader has nothing without a vision for the future.

To me a great leader demonstrates a high level of personal resilience but also proactively shares weaknesses or vulnerabilities for the benefit of others. To this end I take inspiration from former All Black, John Kirwan who has openly shared his personal struggle with depression in the interest of helping others to step up and ask for help. I also think fondly of my High School Headmistress, Mrs Benge, who suffered from a brain tumour but who used her experience to inspire each of the girls at school to believe in her abilities and to never give up. In fact it was her message that inspired me to return to the ballet classes I had quit months earlier, and I will never forget receiving a congratulatory card from her after my final exams, just weeks before she died.

So, can anyone be a leader? Yes. Are YOU a leader? Absolutely, if you choose to be. Whether or not a leader will succeed and create a group of followers though, will depend on that person’s ability to be devoted, transparent, inclusive, and most important of all, genuine. It is those traits I would be looking for in a leader on my team. And maybe, just maybe, that’s some of what my netball coach saw in me.

great leaders