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What makes an effective leader? Tips for success from CEOs to aspiring leaders

I have always found it interesting in what makes a successful CEO and one who inspires people both internally and externally.

Several aspiring leaders I am working with are asking that same question of themselves as they work on their personal development. What will make them successful as a leader and how will they inspire others around them. They are testing out their own skills and techniques but wanting to hear from those that have done it and are successfully leading their organisation and their people.

For me it has to be a leader that is prepared to listen and then make the tough decisions. Someone who can take you on a journey with them and inspires you to really want to be on that journey.

I like the Forbes article of earlier this year that offers the 7 Powerful Characteristics of a Truly Inspirational Leader:-

  • Commitment to Values
  • Invested in Personal Development
  • Radiate Authenticity
  • Skilful Communicators
  • Encourage Unity
  • Approachable and Inclusive
  • Embrace Vulnerability and Risk

The piece of advice I was given as an aspiring leader is on this list, and it was that communication is key for a leader. To be a great communicator with both your own internal colleagues as well as external stakeholders. Through your communication to be able to take people with you on a journey.

I have asked four CEOs who I know what advice they would give aspiring leaders in looking back over their career to where they are now. It is interesting and perhaps unsurprising to see that many of the above characteristics were also highlighted by the CEOs that I spoke with.

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, Chief Executive of World Skills UK, the organisation who inspires young people to develop a passion for skills and to pursue excellence said:-

“The key thing for me is – to be yourself – value your own strengths and seek to be authentic. This is challenging – as being authentic requires a lot of self reflection and acknowledgement of strengths and weaknesses.

It is also challenging because there is significant temptation to adopt behaviours or approaches from senior role models you might admire – being more like them seems to be the route to success. But being more you is the key to real success – you can’t be anyone else or like anyone else – you have to be yourself.

When you have the courage to be authentic, your strengths and values shine through – and these are what help you succeed in work and life.”

Deb Oxley, CEO of The Employee Ownership Association, who represents organisations which are employee owned or transitioning to employee ownership across the UK follows the same theme.

“One thing I have learnt which stands me in good stead as a leader is to be authentic.

For me being authentic and genuine means being honest and open in my dealings with people, being comfortable showing my own vulnerabilities and needs, listening to others and being self-aware.

Whilst every leader has their own style, tone and approach and it is necessary to adapt language and tone to specific circumstances and audiences, being authentic is essential as it enables people to connect with you as a leader.”

These two areas of advice link so well with the Radiate Authenticity point in the Forbes article. Leaders who are able to connect with others because they are open about sharing their struggles, stories and journey of what it took for them to get to where they are today. They recognise their differences is what makes them unique.

Sharon Davies, Chief Executive of Young Enterprise, who as a national charity motivate young people to succeed in the changing world of work by equipping them with the work skills, knowledge and confidence they need said:-

“Prioritising time in developing your organisational culture is an investment in your organisations future. As CEO you are not only custodian of your organisations values, but conscious or not, you are the biggest cheerleader of your culture. You need to walk your talk in terms of the values and culture – every single minute of every single day.

If you have a minute when you show up in a way that you know doesn’t reflect that culture or values then apologise properly and make amends. People will respond to you being real and being intentional in your behaviours and actions.”

This links to being Approachable and Inclusive, ensuring each individual is treated fairly and respectfully and feels a sense of belonging. Therefore, creating a strong and inclusive team culture.

Mark Hodgkinson is Chief Executive of Scope. Scope are the disability equality charity who provide practical information and emotional support when it’s most needed and campaign relentlessly to create a fairer society. Mark said:-

“Don’t be afraid to take risks in your early career. It is often easy to sit within the comfort of your current success. Be prepared to identify you have peaked in one role/area and take the bold step, at that peak, to move on to the next challenge!”

As in the Forbes article taking risks is an essential part of leadership. Taking courageous risks without the guarantee of it being successful. I know for me linked to Mark’s advice, where as an aspiring leader I took that risk and personally developed further from the experience – rather than just enjoying the comfort of my own success.

Taking all the above into account, it really highlights just how important the human element of leadership is. So when considering your own style of leadership – what steps are you taking to embrace and develop those vital characteristics?