Understanding what makes a great leader

Kirsty McManus

THE question ‘what makes a great leader?' has been asked by many different business figures and academics time and time again.

Of course, there is no singular answer to this, however it may be fair to say that the best leaders are those who understand that investing in themselves is vital to success.

Investing in yourself as a leader can mean a number of things. Attending conferences and events both within your industry as well as outside it can be helpful in terms of building skillset, providing fresh perspectives and new ideas and educating yourself on upcoming trends.

Perhaps the greatest value of conference events however comes from the opportunity to make valuable connections with other business leaders by listening, asking questions, sharing ideas and helping one another grow.

Another obvious way that leaders can invest in themselves is by taking part in professional development programmes and courses.

The best leaders proactively seek out professional development and acknowledge the importance of demonstrating that they are serious about their role and the contributions they make to their organisation.

For many the pinnacle is achieving Chartered Director status, which allows them to stand out from their peers and provides an endorsement of their skills, professionalism, and knowledge of corporate governance best-practice.

Of course, by making investments in themselves leaders are not only benefitting themselves as individuals but also their organisation as a whole.

Organisations need effective and informed boards and directors who are aware of their personal responsibilities and accountabilities across a spectrum of activities and disciplines.

Professional leaders should therefore be considered valued members of their company's board of directors.

Following the 2008 financial crisis and the resultant collapse of many businesses across the globe, an article from Robert C Pozen was published in the Harvard Business Review, putting forward the case for promoting the professionalisation of boards.

Pozen claimed that most directors of large companies struggle to properly understand the business of their organisations and how best to lead them. However, this is not the case for leaders who have committed to investing in themselves for the betterment of their company.

In recent years the responsibilities and duties associated with board membership have become increasingly demanding and directors are being required to invest significantly more time than they currently do learning the business and gaining the knowledge and skillset necessary to effectively lead an organisation.

Investing in professional learning and development is a good idea for leaders and their businesses for a number of reasons, but there are numerous wider benefits as well – the most significant of which is that successful business contributes to a successful economy, something that is positive news for us all.

:: Kirsty McManus is national director at the Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

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