I loved an observation by Manfred Kets de Vries, Professor of Leadership Development at INSEAD who said:  “When we talk about leaders, we too often think about an individual with specific abilities. But no one can do everything. Leadership is a team sport. What’s really at stake here is finding the right combination of complementary talents”.

This is the third and last blog in a series on the new model of leadership and the five characteristics of a great leader.

If you aspire to success in today’s world then you must be a leader, not someone waiting to be led.

So here I look at what can you do to be a 21st century leader in your organisation, wherever you are in today’s complex global management matrix?

In my last blog I listed the characteristics of a great leader.  How do you measure up against those?

1. Integrity and honesty. Now everyone thinks of himself or herself as having high integrity and honesty.  But do you show it – do you speak up when you think something is wrong or do you just go along with the crowd? Great leaders speak up; they fight for what they believe is right.  Can you do that?  Are you prepared to be unpopular, are you prepared to stand up for what is right?

When one of my clients did this he discovered that the majority of the executive committee had been thinking the same thing as him but had not had the courage to say it.

2. Focus on results. What most people do is focus on process, or on their objectives, or on how they are perceived – but that is not what great leaders do.

Firstly think through what you are trying to achieve and then work out the best way to achieve it.  If the process does not allow that then change the process.  Get the result that the organisation needs you to deliver.

3. Become a change agent within your team. What is happening in the outside world? Keep up to date with what is happening, read widely and look at the underlying technologies that could disrupt your sector.

Brand yourself as the person who has ideas about the future in your business.   You are going to be greatly in demand over the next few years if you can do this.

4. Learn to inspire and motivate the people you work with. Now, how do you do this? This is the area that frightens most people but its less complicated than you might think

  • People always talk about being visionary, but a great visionary is a storyteller. Stories about how our organisation will look in the future, a story of the opportunities that people will have, a story of the role that the team will play in getting there.
  • Really get to know the people you work with, understand who they are, spend a bit of time chatting over the coffee machine. What are their interests, what do they do? Build relationships across the company.


  • Work out how you get things done in your organisation – it will always be through people and not through process. When I joined BT in 1987 it had more than 200,000 people.  One of my earliest questions to my boss was “how do you get things done round here?”  His reply was “There are 300 people in BT who can get things done, find them and work with them.”
  • Collaborate across the organisation, do not be someone who guards their own turf
  • Communicate as hard and as often as you can about success and failure and what you and your team are doing
  • Help other people develop themselves

Think of yourself as an actor in a new role – in the beginning it will be uncomfortable but it will become second nature over time provided that you continue to work at the skills.

5. Never stop learning.  Yes, you need professional competence in your chosen field, but a lot less of it than you might think because a lot of it will be supplied by intelligent automation.  So much of what we previously thought of as professional work will be done by smart machines.

In the new world of machine intelligence what skills will you need?  They may well be different skills from the ones you have today.  Maybe you need to spend less time on continuous professional development and more on understanding how you are going to work with those smart machines – especially if one is your boss.  And before you dismiss that idea there is a Private Equity firm in the Far East that has appointed an algorithm to its board.  It has an equal vote.  Find out what is happening in the market that will disrupt your job and your business.

leaders are not born

If you can do all of those things you will be a remarkable leader, the sort of leader your firm or company needs and you will have fulfilled your potential.

Remember that leaders are not born, they are made and they make themselves.  All leaders are work in progress.  All of the leaders I work with suffer from fear and doubt their own abilities but they know that they have to overcome the fear and doubt and move themselves and their organisations forward.  Great leaders have a combination of courage, passion and competence that transforms teams and organisations, whatever level they work at.

I would love to hear your stories of leaders you have worked with who impressed you with demonstrating these traits, particularly in challenging circumstances – or who did not and the impact on those around them.