Gilpin ESD

Executive Recruitment | Belfast | Northern Ireland

What makes a successful leader?

Friday, March 30th, 2012

We often use the words “Leadership” and “Management” without really understanding what each is, and if there is a difference between them. There is a big difference in that Leadership is about “doing the right things” (and therefore relates to showing vision and strategic direction) whereas Management refers to “doing things right” (and therefore relates to managing activities efficiently to achieve the vision)

There are some factors that you should consider as you consider your role, and if you can make the transition to becoming a successful Leader.

To be a good Leader you must first be able to lead yourself, and you will not be able to do this without self discipline. Plato said that: “the first and best victory is to conquer self “. In this context discipline is about doing what you really don’t want to do, so that you can do what you really want to do. Or as someone put it, it’s about paying the price in the little thing so that you can buy the bigger thing. A disciplined Leader must possess:

  1. Disciplined Thinking: No Leader who would not agree that to be successful you need to use your head. This is an ongoing activity and the most effective Leaders are those who are continually taking on mental challenges. These sharpen their brains and maintain creativity.
  2. Disciplined Emotions: You have 2 choices when it comes to your emotions. You can master them or let them master you. Therefore you must not let your feelings prevent you from doing things you should do, or drive you to do things you shouldn’t.
  3. Disciplined Actions: While sharpening your mind and controlling your emotions are very important, they can only take you so far. What separates winners form losers is the action they take, and it is actions that reflect your degree of discipline.

So if one of the first steps in becoming a successful Leader is to have imposed self discipline then the second step is to show commitment to your Staff. This means developing relationships with them. Why? Because many organisations fail to tap into the potential of their staff and only reward them with their monthly pay packet. Mind you, the same criticism can be levied at Employees. Too many seem to want nine to five jobs with little stress and no demands on their time outside of these hours, and yet expect, as of right, to earn as much as they can. They are like the Candidate who, when asked at interview what salary was (s)he expecting, replied by stating one way in excess of the post. The Interviewer was taken aback and said:” You certainly are expecting to be compensated well for a beginner”, to which the Applicant replied:” Well sure, but work is a lot harder when you don’t know what you are doing”. Make no mistake it costs if you want to become a Leader.

Successful Leaders, in exchange for the work their Staff give, not only reward them with monthly pay cheques, but also opportunities to grow and develop. Successful Leaders therefore need to:

  • Believe in their staff:
  • Encourage their staff:
  • Share with their staff:
  • Trust their staff:

Therefore Leaders should ask their employees (or staff): what’s important to them, and what can they do to help them? They need to appreciate the three “C’s”:

  1. Commitment: Workers who get ahead share a sense of commitment as they are fully engaged in their work
  2. Control: Such workers are proactive not passive as they will be encouraged to contribute to the success of the organisation
  3. Challenge: They also see stressful situations as opportunities for growth not for complaining and causing dissent in the work force.

There are few employees who would not feel much more secure in today’s uncertain economic environment if their Leaders self discipline resulted in them believing in them, encouraging them , sharing with them and trusting them This is how successful Leaders retain their “BEST” Employees.

But remember Leaders won’t always recognise the potential of Employees, pluck them from obscurity and rocket them to the top. Employees need to have career plans and then talk to their Leaders at the appropriate times. The Annual Appraisal is a good starting point as this is an ideal opportunity for them to demonstrate that they are open to professional


There is a saying which says: “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out and meet it”, and this could mean that if you aspire to be a Leader then you will need to keep on learning, start development programme, and tackle projects outside your comfort zone.

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