How to create a successful business through great leadership

In the third of a series of blogs on leadership, Sir George Buckley, former 3M Chairman and CEO of other multinational firms, reflects on an interesting article he read in The Economist in 2013 around Creating Leaders and how a great leader can make a successful business.

Given what we see worldwide with political turmoil, pandemics, huge economic threats, civil unrest and worries about large tech companies, there has never been a greater need for breakout ideas in leadership.

Great leaders are needed now more than ever to navigate firms through these uncertain times.

There are many attributes that make a great leader and I always refer to an article I read in 2013 in The Economist, as I feel the writer really captured what makes a great leader in these 10 rules which I have adapted below:

  1. A sound ethical compass.

If the boss’s values are undemanding, the company’s will also be shaky. Good people don’t like working for organisations whose values they mistrust. But ethical values are difficult to acquire in middle life. The deeper sources of constraint are hard-wired at an early age. In my case it was on the end of my grandmother’s walking stick.

  1. The ability to take unpleasant decisions.

Many judgments must be made based on ambiguous information. Leaders must often deal swiftly with conflicting demands without being sure of their facts. That calls for a strong stomach. Those who cannot bear to inflict pain or risk making enemies, or who need cast-iron evidence before making up their minds, should not apply for these jobs.

  1. Clarity and focus are essential requirements for making those awkward judgments.

Extracting the crucial point from complexity is essential for devising an effective strategy. There is no point in aspiring to the unachievable. As Samuel Johnson said, without hope, there can be no endeavour.

  1. Ambition.

The best leaders are empire-builders who want to create something that outlasts them. That’s different from ego-boosting personal ambition. It supplies the ruthless drive and the obsession with excellence that are the essential components of good leadership.

  1. Effective communications skills are a relatively new requirement.

You need a leader who can speak convincingly. Motivating a large workforce requires a gift to present a clear vision persuasively. A leader who cannot inspire trust and convey authenticity will find the task difficult.

  1. The ability to judge people is an essential prerequisite, given the importance of human capital.

Judging who will work best in which slot is one of the key tasks of leadership. Like so many aspects of the top job, it requires intuition as well as experience.

  1. A knack for developing talent is needed to build a stock of future leaders.

People learn far more about the art of leading from a good mentor than from a great book. So great leaders must also be great teachers.

  1. Emotional self-confidence.

Surrounding yourself with people who may be better at their job than you are at yours is a money-back guarantee of success. Leaders who are jealous of their followers do not inspire loyalty. Successful leaders need to be able to say, “I don’t know,” without losing the respect of their colleagues or their self-esteem.

  1. Adaptability will prove invaluable when things go wrong.

Surviving a reverse calls for resilience and flexibility. Leaders need the ability to turn misfortune into fortune and reshape a problem so that from some angles it can look like a success.

  1. Charm

This is not a quality taught on MBA courses, but few get to the top without it. A bit of luck helps too, though that may prove hard to arrange.

Do you have any advice for aspiring leaders? Drop us a line @SGBLeadership on Twitter or on LinkedIn

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Regular and authentic communication is crucial to reassure employees and stakeholders that they are in safe hands and to build a stable level of trust within the business.

Sir George Buckley

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