What makes a great leader? For centuries philosophers, politicians, sports stars & academics have been vexed by this seemingly innocuous question, to the point that the only unanimous answer is: there is no definitive answer.
Ask a hundred people the question ‘what makes a great leader’ & chances are you’ll get a hundred different responses & examples of people they consider at least to be (or have been), great leaders.
Churchill, stoic & determined in the face of overwhelming odds during World War 2. Abraham Lincoln, a man with an iron will & belief in his moral convictions during the American Civil War. Emeline Pankhurst of the Suffragette movement with her unwavering commitment to gender equality in Great Britain. Or, South Africa’s greatest son, Nelson Mandela: a man of rare gifts whose commitment to the cause of racial equality was only matched by his ability for forgiveness & compassion.
All four of these remarkable individuals were great leaders, but all four were completely different characters; making the challenge of narrowing down the DNA of great leadership difficult, to say the least.
I was once asked by an experienced, ageing Colonel what I thought leadership was & as you do when you’re in your early 20s, & life seems ‘easy come easy go’, I gave a (upon reflection), fairly average reply — the type of response you might expect to find in a ‘management 101’ book sat gathering dust on the shelf in a senior executive’s office in Canary Wharf.
He respectfully listened & nodded his head from time to time in polite (or at least feigned) agreement, then he gave me his point of view. A response that blew me away & I can still remember word for word, to this day, almost 15 years later.
‘Leadership is about knowing the names of your men’s wives & girlfriends; it’s knowing where they come from & what their parents do. It’s about learning their favourite football teams; what newspapers they read at the weekend & how…