In my last blog I asked whether in the new circumstances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution we still needed leaders and what should they look like? The answer I think is that we need leaders more than ever and we need more leaders more than ever, but these are different leaders with different skills.  If that is true then what are those skills and how do you start to make yourself a leader of the future?

soft skills

There is a school of thought that says that these skills will be those of empathy and understanding and these tend to be described as “soft skills” or even “female skills”.

I’m afraid, at the risk of disappointing some of the authors of these views, I have to say that’s a really bad description of the leadership skills we need. There’s a danger that we are telling people that doing what they are doing with the addition of a bit of empathy will make them into great leaders.

That frankly is rubbish.  There is nothing “soft” about the skills that you need today or in the future and leadership is as hard as it ever was and possibly harder because the world is so complex.

As a mentor I work both with individuals and teams to improve leadership capability.  In order to develop a base line of capability I use an assessment model developed by Zenger and Folkman called Extraordinary Leader.  It’s a very data driven model compiled from 20,000 assessments of senior leaders across the world and it ranks leadership capability from 0 to 100%.  Only those who make it through the assessment to the 90th percentile are classified as great leaders and the analysis shows the impact the top 10% of leaders have.  Great leaders transform organisations. They drive better performance on every metric.

dont stop learning

But how do you become a great leader?  Well the data very clearly shows that great leadership can be learnt – leaders are made, not born. It takes hard work, it takes practice but leadership is a learned skill.

Great leaders do not all behave alike, they have a mix of characteristics that are individual to them and are often difficult and flawed individuals.

Five characteristics leadership

When you analyse all the data on leadership there are five key characteristics of great leaders:

  1. The first characteristic of a great leader is integrity. Great leaders are honest – they are true to themselves and their values, they know that they cannot lead others if they cannot lead themselves.If you want examples of leaders who failed, then you only have to look at the daily news.  Leaders who lack integrity always get found out.  Today, they get found out faster than ever. Look at the Panama Papers which have implicated political leaders around the world – nothing stays secret for long.
  2. Great leaders focus on results. They are clear what it is they want to achieve and they will do what needs to be done to get there. That means that they are flexible, they are not obsessed with process but with getting the right things done. Steve Jobs was always true to his vision of the product
  3. Great leaders are change agents – they embrace change, they do not fear it and they continually push the organization forward. They have a strategic perspective and their vision for the company is always about the change it can make in the world. And great leaders focus externally, not internally; they continually connect their team to the outside world.
  4. Great leaders inspire and motivate, they walk the talk, they are role models to the people they lead. They work hard at communication, they build and develop others and create great teams.  They are collaborators, not competitors. And they are demanding of high performance.  Great leaders are not easy to work for.
  5. The last characteristic of a great leader is a passion for self-development and for the development of others. They have high levels of professional and technical expertise and they are innovators in their field.


Great leaders want to work with the best and they work hard to make their colleagues the best that they can be.

In my next blog I will look at what you can do to become a great leader.