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The Top Qualities of Exceptional Leaders You Need to Know

I'm not sure how much a company depends on leadership style but I suspect it is a lot. A good leader can manage his or her team through an appalling situation. A poor leader can turn a great situation into a disaster.


I have been reminded of this watching the British television drama, SAS: Rogue heroes. It is a great story because it is all about leadership. Armies throughout the world have a command and control leadership. This is thought necessary to manage hundreds if not thousands of people who need to understand their tasks, their positions in the hierarchy, and the importance of discipline. Leadership is largely the result of a designated authority. You know your position in the hierarchy and you know that of those above who will tell you what to do.


In SAS: Rogue heroes, David Stirling, a British Army officer decides to create a special commando unit to operate behind enemy lines in North Africa. His style of leadership, even though a subset of the army, is very loose. He even encourages insubordination. However, his team fully understand what they need to achieve and are bonded by the recognition that they need to work together if they are to be successful. They don't need to be told this, it is obvious.


The question is, how do frameworks of leadership work in businesses? If you are operating a franchise such as McDonald's, you have to be insistent that everybody buys into the rules. Things have to be done a certain way and there is no argy-bargy about it. However, if you are running a business where staff relationships with customers are vital, you may cut a great deal of slack. John Lewis in the UK and Nordstrom in the US delegate a huge amount of responsibility to their staff who are allowed to use their discretion when serving customers.


Someone who heads up a company can impose a culture that trickles down. Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Richard Branson at Virgin, and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook (I mean Meta) have stamped their styles throughout their companies. This is top down leadership and it is most common in business.


Bottom up leadership is where those at the top of the pyramid are happy to receive and share ideas with those at the bottom. It is relevant to outward bound students who have to take charge of their own situation and work their way through problems because there is no one to ask. It is also used successfully by the Timpson Group who have close to 2000 retail outlets in the UK offering cobbling, key-cutting and mobile phone repairs. Sir John Timpson and his son James believe in upside down management. In essence this means trusting the people who operate the retail outlets to use their initiative, change prices, invent new displays and pay up to £500 to settle a complaint. They have total authority to do whatever they can to give an amazing service.


The key to good leadership has to take into consideration two important issues:


1. The place of the company in the business life cycle. The nature of the business in terms of its position on the life cycle will require different styles of leadership. An extroverted charismatic person will do well in a company that is growing and getting off the ground whereas a more introverted number crunching person may be best suited to lead a company in its maturity. A small company can cope with a maverick leadership style whereas a larger organisation demands more structure and control.


2. The job in hand. A business that involves a large number of repetitive tasks that have to be done in exactly the same way all the time is likely to require a different leadership style to a business that is constantly adjusting to changes in the marketplace. An autocratic management style will fit well with the transactional type of business whereas a relationship orientated business needs a freer hand. Different leaders will be more or less suited to these different situations.


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