How to… maximise your leadership capabilities

First, it is important to distinguish between management and leadership.
Management books are full of stories about managers who – mindful that they are
now considered leaders – have no idea what they should be doing differently,
and revert to type.

Management is predominantly tangible, and is concerned with organisational
issues and areas such as control, problem-solving and planning. Leadership, on
the other hand, is far less tangible and more emotive. It is about having
vision, inspiring, motivating and empowering. Effecting significant change, for
instance, is difficult to do without proper leadership, even if you have the
best managers in the world working on the project. That said, good managers can
make good leaders and vice-versa, and the two are interminably interlinked.

Why is it important?

The topic of leadership has never been hotter. UK management is routinely
lambasted in surveys and opinion polls over its leadership shortcomings.
Similarly, UK organisations are frequently criticised for not investing
sufficiently in training to provide the leadership skills necessary for the
future. Developing Leaders, a survey published by the Work Foundation earlier
this year, reveals that among the 221 organisations polled, only six out of 10
senior managers had received leadership training. These findings concur with
the Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership’s (CEML) study last
year. Managers and Leaders: Raising Our Game showed that only 20 per cent of UK
managers hold any leadership qualifications and lacked appropriate skills to do
the job. Poor leadership can have a profound effect on productivity: if you
can’t motivate or inspire your team, it won’t perform at its best. If you lack
vision to move with the times, effect change and innovate, your organisation
will rapidly lose competitive advantage.

Leaders are found throughout organisations and are needed at every level.
This includes HR, whose role historically has been to police rather than lead.
But, increasingly, in keeping with all frontline leaders, HR must influence
employee behaviours to set their departments apart.

What makes a good leader?

If you tried to take in all the books, lectures, seminars, papers and theses
that have claimed to solve this conundrum, your head would explode. Styles of
management, championed by the obligatory guru, move in and out of fashion as
quickly as trouser widths, and the latest isn’t always the best.

There will always be room for the archetypal, textbook leader who has
charisma, a vision and wisdom by the sackful, personified by the likes of John
Harvey Jones, Jack Welch, Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela. But according to
Anthony Hesketh of the management learning division at Lancaster University
Management School, the view gathering momentum is that leadership is about
championing processes. While it is all very well to be charismatic and have a
host of other attributes, if you as a leader don’t achieve results and deliver
them to a high standard, the future of your organisation is in doubt.

There are some must-haves, whatever kind of leader you are:

– Have the vision to see where the company should be going and know how it
will get there

– Be able to identify goals and know how to realise them

– Be a good communicator at all levels at all times, especially when
effecting change

– Respect people at all levels and recognise their knowledge and skills

– Cultivate trust at all levels.

How can I evaluate my success as a leader?

It is results that will mark out your leadership capabilities, and that
means having the appropriate measurements in place to gauge you and your
department’s contribution and its impact on the organisation. This forms the
nub of Results-based Leadership, co-authored by HR guru Dave Ulrich, which
presents a step-by-step guide to improving an HR department’s performance.
These include making everything you do results-driven. Start by analysing all
available data on the department. Ulrich advocates the need to take total
responsibility for such results and then to set targets for improvement,
defining and communicating expectations clearly to your team.

Other key steps include knowing the strengths and weaknesses of every team
member, taking a more experimental ‘yes, let’s try it,’ approach, and
accelerating the pace at which the department works. Suggest, for example, that
they improve turnaround times for certain processes. The latter will encourage
team members to find fresh ways of doing things.

Remember those around you

An obligatory part of being a good leader is bringing on the people around you.
HR, of course, should not only to do this within its own department, but shares
responsibility for individual development in all sections of the company.

Where can I get more info?


– Results-Based Leadership, Dave Ulrich, Jack Zenger, Norm Smallwood,
Harvard Business School Press, ISBN 0875848710

– Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad and How Great Managers
Remake Them, Donald N Sull, Harvard Business School Press, £19, ISBN 1578519934


– What Leaders Really Do, by John P Kotter, Harvard Business Review,


– Developing Leaders, Managing Best Practice No103, The Work Foundation,
£65, SSI 135515161

– Managers and Leaders: Raising Our Game, Council for Excellence in
Management and Leadership. A full copy can be downloaded as a PDF from:

If you only do five things…

1 Influence employee behaviour to set
your department apart

2 Make everything you do results-driven

3 Take complete responsibility for these results

4 Analyse all available data

5 Set targets for improvement

Expert’s view: Anthony Hesketh on senior executive leadership

Anthony Hesketh is a lecturer in the management learning division, Lancaster
University Management School. It runs ‘Lead to Lead’, a leadership exchange
programme for senior execs and executive teams.

What is your take on this massive surge of interest in leadership?

It’s simply down to the insecurity of British management. They would like to
believe there is someone out there – a guru – who is going to lead them to
nirvana. The other aspect is that people are increasingly aspirational, so
everyone in middle-management now wants to reach the upper echelons of
organisations where all the decision-making lies.

Is there a holy grail of leadership?

I don’t think there is anyone out there leading a multinational or
large-scale organisation who would genuinely think they are running their
organisation by the seat of their pants, having never been developed. It is
rare for someone to have reached this level without having been very carefully
brought along by the organisation.

Can bad leaders become good?

It is inaccurate to talk of good leaders and bad leaders – some are better
at leading than others. But leaders do have to remember that they need to
develop themselves too.

What trait is particularly representative of bad leadership?

Setting impossible targets is one, and there is nothing more demotivating
for employees. However, increasing targets and employees’ aspirations on a
continual basis is good leadership. Facilitating them to reach those targets as
they are steadily increased so they are attainable is excellent leadership –
but it rarely happens.

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