What makes a good leader?

Will Jones' essay earned Distinction on the IPA Advanced Leadership and Delegation course.

Rock Kitchen Harris' Will Jones channels Shackleton and explores what good leadership looks like in this essay from the 2020 IPA Advanced Leadership and Delegation course.

Google defines leadership as "the action of leading a group of people or an organisation." From this definition, it shows there is not one key defining aspect that makes a great leader. This is in part because different leaders and leadership styles are needed in different situations. Barack Obama might have been a fantastic leader of the United States of America, but how would he have coped if he was in Shackleton’s shoes, for example? In this essay, I will explore what I think 'demonstrate leadership' means to me as a senior account manager at an advertising agency, with examples from my own experiences.

In Shackleton’s Way, Morrell and Capparell say a good leader will be able to "turn setbacks and failures to your advantage". I feel that to demonstrate leadership, you need to turn any setback to your team’s advantage. I experienced this when we did not win a pitch. Instead of seeing the negatives in not winning, my line manager got us to focus on the positives. We may not have won this piece of work, but there was a similar pitch coming up in a few weeks and we had already done the hard work. Also, we had now learnt from our mistakes in the previous pitch. This was a great example of leadership and by getting us to focus on the positives, we went on to win the following pitch.

A good leader will ensure everyone is well-informed

It was explored in the leadership course that "well-informed employees are more eager". I feel that to demonstrate leadership, you need to be transparent and give employees as much information as possible. Within my team, my boss and I have been working hard to become more transparent and ensure we keep everyone up-to-date. For us, it was not the fact we did not want to share information, but rather that we felt we did not have enough time. Following some negative feedback from the team, we have made a real effort to put the time in the diary with the team. I have found this to be effective as I now receive fewer questions between meetings which allows me to focus on my work more. By making sure information was shared freely, we demonstrated leadership as employees now feel more confident and prepared in their role. I feel that a good leader will ensure everyone is well-informed and they have the correct information to do their job effectively.

Another way of demonstrating leadership is by delegating work. We explored in the course how it is important to help free up your own time and how it also benefits the people you are delegating to. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to delegate more of my work. I used to hold on to work and do it myself, as I felt it was too time-consuming to try and explain the task to those reporting to me. Initially, it does take longer to explain, but as explored in the course, it benefits everyone involved. Looking back, I realised I did this effectively by helping a colleague I was line managing to progress to a senior account executive and then onto an account manager. Following this leadership course, I reflected on why I think he managed to progress so quickly and I believe I mainly helped in the following ways:

  • Listening: I always made time to talk to him if he had any questions. I also listened to him as he told me his goals and then we worked together to ensure he achieved them.
  • Lead by example: I wanted him to possess the same attention to detail I did and to work hard. I did this through leading by example, showing him my standards and setting him the bar. By developing these skills, he was able to progress to an account manager as this is an integral part of the role.
  • Feedback: Once I was aware of his goals, I was very conscious to give him constant feedback, negative or positive. I tried to give this straight away if possible.

As a result of the course, I am going to make sure I continue to build on my strengths listed above to help those around me progress. One way I am going to do this is introducing 'one-minute goals' with the team. Following the course, I read Kenneth H. Blanchard’s One Minute Manager and we are now going to ensure everyone in the team knows each other’s goals, so we can all work together to achieve them. I feel this demonstrates leadership as we are showing everyone in our team we care about each other. As explored in my above examples, leadership cannot be defined by one skill, but you have to combine different skills to be a great leader.

Leading by example

As mentioned above, another way of demonstrating leadership is by leading by example. My old boss used to moan at everyone for not turning up on time to work, but would regularly turn up late himself. People obeyed him because he was the boss, but we all lost respect for him. He felt he was demonstrating leadership by giving orders, but it would have been a lot more effective if he had led by example. A leader needs to be clear with what they expect from you and then they need to lead by example.

Good leaders listen

I touched on this above, but one of the key ways to demonstrate leadership is by listening. It is a hard skill to perfect, but it allows you to gain information and interpret situations correctly. Following the leadership course, I have been conscious of making sure I am an active listener. This is especially hard in video meetings, but I have already seen the benefits of dedicating time to those talking and listening to what they have to say. It gives those you are listening to the opportunity to voice their opinion and it makes them feel valued and important. Great leaders will make you feel like you are the most important person in the room and this is a fantastic way to demonstrate leadership.

Sharing credit and taking responsibility

A good leader also shares credit and takes responsibility. My old boss used to say to me "I will let you take the glory" on projects. It made me feel valued and that the work I was doing was important. If anything did go wrong, he would jump in and take responsibility. Looking back, this was effective as it gave me a lot of confidence. Also as he put his faith in me, I worked harder to make sure I did not let him down. I now implement this with those that report to me. I find it an effective technique as you are not only saying "I trust you", but you are also allowing them to take ownership of the project, which in turn will help them progress.

A leader should also be able to boost team morale. Morrell and Capparell state in Shackleton’s Way that you should do “your part to help create an upbeat environment at work”. This skill has become increasingly harder in the last year, as we are now working remotely. When we were in the office, my boss was excellent at bringing the mood up and motivating everyone. Now we are working remotely, he still manages to do this by having team meetings where we talk about work and catch up. I used to think this was a bit of a waste of time, especially when I was busy, but following this course, I have realised he is boosting morale and making sure everyone is okay - much like Shackleton did on the Endurance. This demonstrates leadership as the team’s morale is boosted following these calls. A good leader can boost morale, no matter how hard the objectives.

Demonstrate leadership every day

As explored in this essay, you can demonstrate leadership every day. You do not need a big event or to be given loads of responsibility to prove yourself as a great leader. We will not all be stranded in the Antarctic or be leaders of countries, but through my role as Senior Account Manager, I can impact the lives of those around me. As mentioned, following the course I have already started making changes to the way we run the team and I am determined to implement these learnings into my everyday role. As explored in Shackleton’s Way, "you have a bigger impact on the lives of those under you than you can imagine". This epitomises one of the key learnings I am taking away from this experience, which is through being a leader, I can shape those around me and, in turn, help the entire team.

Will Jones is an Account Director at Rock Kitchen Harris. This essay earned him a Distinction in the IPA's 2020 Advanced Leadership and Delegation course. Book your place on the course's next intake in November.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024