What Makes a Great Leader?

November 1, 2015

What Makes a Great Leader?

Leadership is defined as the act of leading a group of people or organisation, it sounds simple enough, but being a great leader takes vision, passion, determination, accountability and much more. I recently caught up with a group of savvy businessmen who are leaders in their respective fields for their thoughts on what it takes to be at the top of their game.

It’s been a tumultuous time in Australian politics, with former Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently ousting Tony Abbott in a dramatic leadership ballot to become the fifth Australian Prime Minister in five years. It was reminiscent of the leadership spill of 2010 when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard staged a coup against Kevin Rudd. This political roller-coaster of the past half-decade got me thinking about leadership and what it takes to effectively lead a country, an organisation, a sporting club, a church. To discover more I posed the question to the Blokes About Town over a delicious lunch at Three Bar & Grill at Dicky Beach for their take on what qualities make a great leader. Co hosting the lunch was my partner in crime and head of Think Speakers and Events, Gerry Morris. Joining us was Scott Roberts, CEO of IBN Direct; Brendan Bathersby partner at Garland Waddington Solicitors; Scott Fawke Managing Director of Aussure General Insurance Brokers and Garry Hutchinson, Business Development Manager at SOI Virtual Reception.

profile: What are the top qualities you think a great leader 
should possess?

scott f: I think openness is a big one. It can often be a thin line you walk between being a boss and a leader and a friend. In my business there are only four staff and I’m married to one of them, so she’s the real boss! It’s important to be approachable and accountable as a leader, I don’t think being a dictator works. I believe in letting people have a go and make their own mistakes, it’s how we learn. I’ve been fortunate to have 27 years in the insurance industry so I try to guide my staff as best as I can based on my experiences.

Blokes About Town

scott r: If we are looking at politics, I don’t think I’ve known a politician who hasn’t lied. I often wonder if government were bound by the same laws as the corporate world, where they only got paid if they performed, would they make the same decisions, I don’t think so. You have to set an example as a leader. Both sides of government have shown there is no loyalty even within their own party. Five leaders in five years makes us good fodder for overseas countries. 
I think in any field, leading by example is the best way to go. No one likes double standards … do as I say, don’t do as I do. I think if a leader can provide a good example they are halfway there.

brendan: A good leader has to be prepared to delegate. I can think of people who don’t actually lead, they drag people. A good leader needs to let those people underneath them step up appropriately. It’s always easy to train people if you are monitoring their every move but that is impossible.

garry: I think an even temperament is very important as a good leader. Regardless of what’s going on in your personal life you have to remain calm on the exterior. Good leaders naturally have those skills. Empower your people to do the work and if people make a mistake then that’s ok. The worst type of managers or leaders are the ones who try to micro manage every aspect of the business because it’s virtually impossible.

scott r: Michelle Evans (4 Ingredients) once told me you have to play golf with people in the corporate world because when someone plays a bad shot in golf, their reaction is a good indication of how they react in business! If they are smashing their clubs into the ground, you probably don’t want to do business with them.

brendan: Oh no, you can’t compare the two!

scott r: I also agree with being able to delegate. I had a mini mutiny in my business where my staff told me to stay out of the day-to-day business, they have it under control (laughs). I have been micro managed out of my business! I only look after the high level stuff. I went from having a sole business with just me and I knew every file I dealt with. Having to let go was difficult.
garry: If you can set your business up so you can step out and it can still run effectively, you have done a great job. Delegating it out is hard.

Blokes About Town

profile: Is a good leader born or can those skills be learnt?
garry: My personal opinion is that you are born naturally with those skills. You can learn but I think leaders are naturally inclined to follow that pathway. Having said that, there are lots of people who don’t start out that way but they get into the corporate world or start their own business and become great leaders.
brendan: There are some great leaders who follow none of the stereotypes. There are great leaders in history who didn’t delegate, had not much regard for people’s feelings etc, so whether they were actually great or just regarded as great is open to interpretation. I think you have to be born with a certain quality to be a true leader though.

gerry: I have been fortunate that a lot of the TSE guest speakers talk about leadership. Wayne Bennett is a great example. Wayne is a great communicator. He says as a leader you have to be the calmest man in the room. Craig Bellamy and Glenn Cooper are others that come to mind. Glenn said something that stuck with me, he said it starts right from the top. The fish smells from the head down.

scott r: I downloaded a questionnaire on how to think like Elon Musk (a South African-born Canadian-American business magnate, engineer, inventor and investor) and he said to find five people who are going to be the most honest with you and get them to tell you everything that’s wrong with your business. If you have a bunch of “yes” people you are never going to get any better.

scott f: I think we are born with the ability because leaders tend to find leadership roles. If you have a group of 10 people in a room and you need someone to lead not everyone will put their hand up because there are certain people that are genetically coded to be leaders. I think the same could be said in business. Some people don’t want to own their own business. There are also going to be those who want to go to work and go home. You can always learn from others, I am always learning. That’s how you better yourself or you will be static in business.
profile: Who do you look up to as a great leader?

scott f: I don’t think there is any one person. You can gather traits from various people. It comes down to different scenarios. Ben Roberts-Smith was such a brave leader but then bravery in different circumstances could be the undoing of someone too.

Blokes About Town

brendan: I think mothers are great leaders. Fathers get a leadership role almost by default but there are some pretty ordinary fathers around the place. I think mothers generally are the unsung heroes. The other is Pope Francis, he is an amazing bloke. The things that he is doing quietly in the Vatican and further afield is amazing. He is so revered in Argentina. I have a religious faith but I recognise that the Catholic Church has a long way to go. In my opinion, he is the best man for the job.

garry: Nelson Mandela. To have been incarcerated for all that time and to come out and not be bitter is a true measure of the man he was.

scott r: Elon Musk is up there. He has released all of Tesla’s patents free of charge with the hope there will be an affordable electrical vehicle in everyone’s garage in the next few years. That’s pretty amazing. I recently went to the Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba and a couple of the floats nearly brought me to tears particularly the Rosies – who help people such as the homeless and hungry in time of need, expecting nothing in return. Those are the type of people I look up to, those who make a real difference in people’s lives. There’s an old saying that in time of need, those who have the ability to make a difference have the responsibility and that has really hit home heavily in the last few years. There are too many of us who have the ability and don’t do anything.

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