Becoming a leader – part 1

A guest post by Gerard Smith, leadership author

The test of time, changing roles and even technology may make leadership qualities look different but the truth is that leadership qualities have been remarkably consistent from the beginning of civilization until today.

As any effective leader will tell you, becoming a good leader and remaining an effective leader are ongoing, long-term pursuits. Developing the core leadership elements and sustaining them for years to come takes commitment and dedication to the idea that there is more to do, more leadership skills to learn and perfect.

Effective leaders have certain undeniable qualities. In this section, we will identify those qualities. In the following section, we shall examine them more closely and discuss how to become and remain an effective leader.

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Most leadership qualities are self-evident but it is the substance behind the commitment to the specific qualities that differentiates leadership strength. Enduring, effective leaders must possess the following characteristics and skills:

  • Honesty
  • Vision
  • Competency
  • Inspirational
  • Intelligence
  • Principles
  • Honour
  • Valour
  • Courage
  • Humility

There are other necessary traits but the individual who possesses these core characteristics, a good amount of patience, the willingness to work hard and an ability to manage risk will be successful at whatever he or she pursues. Being a leader can be a gratifying, rewarding and exhilarating experience but leadership is, and always will be, a challenging endeavour.


Honesty is more than not being dishonest or untruthful. Honesty is being transparent. A leader’s honesty is emitted through his or her actions, policies, personal and professional conduct and interactions. Honesty is not about making mistakes. In fact, great leaders admit their mistakes and move on. The ability to convert a negative situation into a positive outcome is an important part of the leader’s credibility.

One of the most significant statements about honesty was made by US President Harry S. Truman, who said point blank; “The buck stops here.” Truman also made the memorable statement; “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” Honest leaders stand up to the heat and they take responsibility for the actions of their business or organization. The world could use more leaders who subscribe to these core concepts.


As described in the popular leadership book, Leadership Challenge; “The whole point of leadership is figuring out where to go from where you are now.” Leaders assess their current position, envision their full potential and lead to the future. This is the primary responsibility of leaders. If the leader is absorbed in management of daily activities, he or she is not leading but managing. This is an important distinction.

When followers do not believe the leader has a forward vision, they perceive one of two things;

  • The leader lacks vision
  • The leader is unwilling to share the vision for fear of failure

Effective leaders are prepared to take calculated risks, pursue their vision and make adjustments along the way. Without vision, the leader is a follower.


Followers need to know their leadership is competent, not necessarily the foremost expert on the inner workings of the organization but understanding in the structure and responsibilities of every department. Being competent is not demonstrating incompetence. Competence is often achieved in acknowledging the attainment of team goals and demonstrating that company initiatives are working. Great leaders do not take all the credit but they make sure the achievements of those around them are duly recognized.


People want to be inspired and passionate about their pursuit, their future and the future of their organization. History has shown that people will follow an inspirational leader to extreme depths, even if the base of the inspiration is misguided. To inspire the CEO of Pepsi to leave his high profile job and come to work for Apple, Steve Jobs asked; “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?”

An excellent technique to inspire is through storytelling, an acquired art form. Persons who lack charisma can learn to become inspirational. Stories are terrific venues for presenting a theme the leader wants to put forth. People listen to stories, especially stories that communicate on an emotional level. But, storytelling is only one way to be inspirational. Sharing the vision, displaying the competence, being honest and incorporating all the characteristics above and in Part II will make you a strong, respected and sustainable leader.

Bob Bradley

Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.

Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.

Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.

More about Bob

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