ACCA - The global body for professional accountants

Related Links

Your leadership journey begins by looking within yourself, says our talent doctor Dr Rob Yeung. Plus, searching for jobs with your mobile device, the perfect commute, and more

This article was first published in the October 2013 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Talent Doctor: Leadership

I work at an organisation that my colleagues and I describe as a ‘leadership consulting firm’ and I run workshops helping people to become better leaders. 

But what do we mean by the term ‘leadership’?

There are theories of leadership such as the charismatic leadership model, the transformational leadership model and so on. But I don’t think that we need such jargon. To understand what leadership is, we need only to think about the good leaders we have encountered.

Try it now. Pause and bring to mind a specific leader or two who brought out the best in you. They may have been leaders who managed you or merely leaders you observed, but try to think about two such individuals.

Now ask yourself: What exactly did each do or say to bring out the best in you? And how did each make you feel? When I’m doing this exercise in leadership development workshops, I usually ask managers to write down the exceptional leaders’ names and a few bullet points about what they did and the feelings they engendered. You can try it too if you like.

Ask enough people and they usually say that these good leaders inspired them, trusted them, empowered them and made work fun. Effective leaders challenged people, invited discussion and made people feel valued, respected and that they had an important role to play within the organisation. 

Now try the reverse thought experiment too. Think back to a couple of leaders who dragged you or others down. Most managers I work with can only too easily recall such leaders. What did each of these not-so-good leaders do or say? And how did each make you and others feel?

In answer, many people say that the ineffective leaders they’ve encountered tended to be moody, negative individuals. Perhaps they micro-managed their teams, were quick to find fault or blamed others. These leaders often caused such consternation and frustration that most people would have been happier if they had left the organisation.

So there you have it. If you’re a leader who wants to get better at what you do, you don’t need to understand theories that are currently in vogue about leadership. Just think back to the good leaders you’ve come across to understand the kind of behaviour you should aspire to demonstrate to bring out the best in others. Likewise, recall those ineffective leaders you’ve had the displeasure of working with to remind yourself how not to manage those around you.

Of course, understanding how you would like to be – your personal vision of your future self – is only the first step in the journey towards becoming a better leader. 

You next need to get feedback from colleagues on how you currently are. Only by understanding the gap between your future vision and your current reality can you then plan the practical steps to get there. But with effort it’s possible to become a better leader, the kind of person who inspires others to want to do and perform at their best.

Dr Rob Yeung is a psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace and author of over 20 bestselling career and management books, including E is for Exceptional: The New Science of Success (Pan Books). He also appears as a business commentator on BBC and CNN. 

Last updated: 8 Apr 2014