Throughout my life I have been constantly inspired by great leadership. Great leadership is one of those concepts that is really difficult to define and can be even harder to learn. Yet I think we sometimes underestimate the importance of leadership and management, which I believe is the key to sustainable growth.
Eisenhower captured it best when he said: "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because they want to do it."
Some people are lucky enough to be born with the kind of qualities that make a great leader but it is also possible to pick up these skills through practice, hard work and application.
Of course, not all of us are suited to taking charge of people and there is nothing wrong with that but for those who find themselves in management positions it is vital to keep on top of your skillset. Complacency in any walk of life leads to a deterioration in performance, and the people at the top of their trader are the ones who are continually honing and improving their skills.
So, what, in my experience, makes a great leader?
Here are five key areas which when combined will make someone a really great manager.
1. Leading from the front
The very best managers are always the ones that lead by example. Cracking the whip will only get you so far when you are trying to get the very best performance from your team. It's far better to get people to follow you by setting a great example. A manager cannot expect people to go the extra mile for them if they are seen to be dedicated to the cause themselves. Teams and individuals will always perform better when they want to do something rather than because they are being told they have to.
One of the hardest skills to pick up is the ability to be calm and decisive when the going gets really tough. The true mettle of a person always comes out when the pressure is really on. The most important thing is to keep calm in a crisis and the second most important thing is to be decisive. I've experienced tough situations at certain times in my career, for example when I invested in a sandwich chain in 2006, which then went into administration six months later. People who panic will send out the wrong message at exactly the wrong time. And when things do go wrong it is really important to take action clearly and with authority.
3. Be open to ideas
Part of the decision making process is having confidence in your own abilities and judgment. It should be underlined however that there is a big difference between being confident and being arrogant. Staff will not warm to someone who thinks they are always right and are unwilling to listen to other ideas. I believe you should actively encourage contribution from all members of staff, from the top right down to junior level. Not only does this increase the flow of ideas, but it is a great motivational boost for your staff, who will feel more valued.
4. Understanding your staff
The soft skills of management can be easily overlooked by a lot of people but I have always seen them as one of the key aspects of leadership. Any great business will always be built on the skills and the performance of the staff that work for it. It is the job of an owner manager to understand what makes people tick and what motivates them. Some people are motivated by the financial side of things; others want responsibility. Some need constant praise and encouragement whereas others are happy to be left to their own devices. There is never a one size fits all approach. Call it intuition or empathy, but the ability to read different people should never be underestimated.
5. Have a long term vision
I don't believe in just looking at the short term if you are a leader. There should always be some sort of long term strategy - an ambition and end goal. Everything you do should be with that goal in mind. The best leaders are then able to get everyone else to buy into that vision. For example, if you are taking on new recruits, how quickly do they buy into the brand and values of the company? That is as good a test as any of your leadership abilities.
Follow James Caan CBE on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jamescaan