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What makes leaders people that we want to follow?

Sharp-Chris-Sharp-(web)-croppedby Chris Sharp

What makes someone a good leader? From history there are countless examples – Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Mahatma Gandhi to name just a few.

They stand out because they united people – be it a population or an expedition team – to work together and believe in a common cause. They connected with and had empathy for the people they were tasked with leading. A great leader must stand above others and strike the balance between responsibility and delegation.

Does a good manager automatically make a good leader? Not necessarily. They are good at their job and technically gifted, but won’t always possess strong leadership skills. A good manager can be a good leader, but what sets these select few apart?

It is said that a great platoon commander can get their troops to follow when they are not at war demonstrating that they are the right sort of leader. It is possibly easier to motivate a team when there’s a fight to be had, but on a day to day level, when spirits may be low and the end goal isn’t immediately obvious, that’s when true leadership ability comes to the forefront.

When we think of great business leaders, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would probably appear on everyone’s list. Sir Richard Branson? A great figurehead, but is that necessarily the same as a great leader? He is charismatic, but charisma is very much about the individual – does that instil trust and build confidence in their leadership ability?

Leadership skills can definitely be acquired. In business, we want people who have the vision to develop an organisation and effectively communication that vision internally and externally; they must be knowledgeable and have considerable experience in their field. Able to inspire, check, motivate, check, good communication skills, confidence in their own ability, complete understanding of their customers’ needs, check, check, check.

How do you determine if someone is or will be a good leader when you meet them, say in an interview situation? You probably can’t, certainly not in the same way as you can assess a person’s ability to deliver on the technicalities of a job role such as improving profit margins. But deciding if someone will be a good business leader isn’t a complete leap of faith – you need to ask the right questions to the right people.

And it goes much deeper than speaking to a person’s current manager – ask the right questions to their peers, co-workers, the people that worked for them, former bosses. Who better to tell you if someone is a team player, knows how to motivate, brings everyone together in a way that makes people believe in the business, be proud of what they had achieved and have the drive to continue to strive for success?

Jim Collins, in his book ‘Good to Great’, describes a great leader as someone who “looked out of the window to credit others for success and looked in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things didn’t go to plan”. Good managers and great leaders are not easy to find, so it helps to know what you are looking for and vital that you know when you have found one.


Sharp Consultancy specialises in the recruitment of finance and accountancy professionals.  With offices in Leeds, Sheffield, Doncaster and Manchester our highly experienced team of consultants recruit for temporary, interim and permanent roles across the full spectrum of positions throughout Yorkshire and the North West.