Two questions I get asked often

…is, what makes a great leader?

I’ve been working in leadership development for over 20 years, in that time I’ve met lots of leaders, a small percentage of whom were truly great leaders. 

This small percentage of great leaders share several characteristics. 

The first one is, they understand how to engage people, how to connect with people and how to build effective, healthy relationships. Honest relationships where people can genuinely share what they think without fear of retribution. 

Secondly, they also have an uncanny ability to build a vision, and then have other people share in building out the details and understanding that vision. Some of the best leaders I’ve met have worked with me in more than one company. Each time they take on a new role, they demonstrate the ability to build a new vision for their new company, clearly setting out how it fits into its market, what it should focus on and, what value it’s going to create. Then I watch them work with their senior team to turn that vision into a realisable plan.

This brings me to the third common characteristic; they create urgency without fear; they make working on the execution of the plan feel like fun. These leaders believe that when people enjoy what they do, and understand that they are making a difference, they will strive to do their best work. 

The other question asked often; are great leaders rare?

My team and I have worked with over 5000 leaders in the past 20 years, and based on this experience; I can honestly say yes

I have come to learn that, in any organisation, I can expect to find between five and fifteen per cent of managers who demonstrate great leadership. Managers who exhibit the behaviours of outstanding leadership are always the minority. This observation leads to the conclusion that many organisations have up to 95% ineffective leaders who, more often than not, use fear as a chief motivator. I believe this happens because they have not learned how to use engagement and awareness to build a platform for their leadership. 


Three things that you can do to become great at leadership. 

The three keys. 

Key number one: Vision.

Share a vision; stop what you are doing and set time aside to understand what it is you want to achieve.

Ask and answer these questions:  

  • What will your team become?
  • What will you become in the future?
  • What will the business you’re running look like when you have finished transforming it? 

The answer to these questions fires off a different level of stimulation in our minds. It allows others to become engaged in a story, and a purpose that enables them to build a real sense of the end state and create a vivid picture of what you’re trying to achieve.  The more vivid picture, the more engaged and inspired your people will become.

Key number two: Self-Awareness

Genuine self-awareness is exceptionally scarce. Tasha Eurich, an Organisational Psychologist, has researched this phenomenon and discovered that most people report themselves as self-aware, while only 15% have a highly developed sense of who they are and how they impact others. Most people overestimate their level of self-awareness because they ask themselves the wrong questions and don’t ask for enough feedback from others.   

To become self-aware, you have to understand your patterns of behaviour, learning how your feelings are triggered and what you find challenging. Learning about your core value set, and why it’s important to you will help deepen your understanding of what motivates and drives you.  This self-knowledge forms a platform on which to build outstanding leadership.

When you learn to understand your emotions, reactions and your values, you will have developed enough emotional intelligence to help others who are going to be working with you. You can also help them start to understand themselves, leading to a level of engagement that is a more powerful motivator than fear.  When you coach others to develop their awareness and have open conversations about what triggers them, you will be changing the relationship dynamics of your team forever. These discussions lead to collective culture building and generate incredible levels of trust.

We created DUET to give people a way to open up to conversations about values and their personal beliefs. DUET lets people talk about core values and what’s important to them and talk about their own success stories.  These conversations begin the process of connecting people’s values, beliefs and behaviours’ on a deeper level so they develop a better understanding of what is driving them and making them effective.  This level of awareness forms a bridge that takes team members into discussions that start the process of culture-building within a team, and then into a broader organisation. 

The Third Key: Compassion.

As people learn about each other in this way they develop higher levels of compassion, as will you. This knowledge will generate a shift in your belief systems; you will develop a genuine belief in the members of your team and the team as a whole.  As your team experience this shift in your belief in them, they also will experience a shift, one that has the net effect of making your them want to perform more. Throughout this process, everyone on the team is learning, and shifting their engagement, collectively they are moving towards a goal to prove they can produce more.  You will see your team becoming passionate about success.

These changes will lead you to care about their ideas, and in today’s world ideas are currency, showing the people that are working with you that their ideas matter and they’re valuable is critical to your success.   This new level of compassion will help you help the team collaborate.

Teams need to learn to collaborate. We have so much in this world, that pushes people towards being competitive, rather than collaborative. When team members begin sharing ideas, notions such as, one idea being better than another, or that there is kudos to have the winning idea, can disrupt the team’s path to becoming a high-performance team.

Your role is to help your people to understand collaboration. Collaboration is the ability to produce an outcome that no one person could create alone. Working in this way requires purposeful relationships, an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each team member which allows all parties to choose to cooperate to accomplish a shared outcome strategically. Learning to join ideas together is a function that enables a team to make a seismic shift in performance.  

What barriers make leadership rare?

In any organisation, you can assume that somewhere between 5% and 15% of managers will be effective leaders; this means that great leaders are a minority group. 

Therefore, the first barrier to effective leadership in companies is


Suppose 85-95% of your colleagues aren’t interested in showing great leadership, this makes going with the flow so much easier than stepping away from the crowd and cutting your own path.  This is why complicity prevails in most companies. The general mood can be characterised by “why bother”, and “too hard”. When you know that no one else is doing it (practising effective leadership), this exacerbates the problem.  It is hard to stand away from the mob. When you do, you will stand out.

The second barrier, little or

no consequences. 

We rarely hear of anyone losing the job because they didn’t show great leadership. More often, we hear of people getting promotions for getting stuff done, never mind decimating a team in the process and leaving an unhealthy mess behind. This kind of acknowledgement perpetuates the idea that leadership isn’t as valued as output at any cost.  When output is rewarded, without concern for the cost to others, it creates a storyline that reads, you don’t have to care about your team to get promoted in this organisation. Ruthlessness, or selfishness and the lack of consequences, promotes the idea that you don’t have to develop leadership skills to succeed.

The third barrier is


Stress impacts those people who decide to develop their leadership skills as well as other managers who don’t. 

The causes of stress are often associated with fear.  The fear of missing deadlines; or a fear of not getting results; the fear of judgement, or a fear for your job all give rise to myopia. Fear generally forces all of us to narrow our field of vision; therefore stopping us from seeing the big picture.

When fear causes us to develop short-sightedness it becomes more difficult for us to take on other people’s ideas, because it often drives us to look to reduce the perceived risks; we want to make sure we get things done. This thinking causes us to shift inwards, we choose to rely on our own ideas, or our way of getting things done, this seems safer, and we often hear statements such as “it’s faster if I do it myself”, all of these choices are driven by fear, this is not leadership; moreover it doesn’t engage a team and can cause the complete collapse of the 3 keys. 

The dilemma you face

No one can change alone. This makes joining the 5-15%% minority a tough proposition.  To change your behaviour you will need help.   This is one reason why it’s good to have a coach, someone who can help you build that perspective over time, and help you develop your skills and knowledge and understanding of yourself; it’s also a good reason to let your team in on your journey and allow them to help.   

I believe that leadership development is the key to the sustainable success of any organisation. It has to become a priority because building a community of leaders who can share their wins and their struggles and their ideas, is how you shift an organisation from being a 5% leadership organisation to 50% or more.  

Organisations that have 50% or more great leaders are identifiable by remarkable achievements:

  • they are the organisations that can sustain their position as the best place to work;
  • they are the truly agile organisations;
  • they are the organisations that simply get more done with fewer people;
  • they innovate more and lead their markets.

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If you are interested in learning more about MGL or how to implement any of our models with your team, please contact or call +1 203 253 2836.