The art of leadership is a complex discipline to master, but one absolutely necessary for running a healthy business. Leadership skills are learned through a mix of workplace experience in managerial positions, interacting with employees as well as trial and error with different theoretical approaches from business education.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to business management as different organisations require varied methods; however, there are key characteristics that many successful leaders possess. As a strong leader can ultimately be the difference between a company’s success and failure; here we explore the three management characteristics that form the foundation of a great leader.

"My philosophy is, put your employees first, your customers second and your investors third and, in the end, everyone will be happy." - Sir Richard Branson

Being Inspirational

For any leader, is important to be an inspiration to their employees as they epitomise the success their workers are trying to achieve. Stimulating ambition by inspiring others in the organisation, works at a micro-level to encourage individual personal development and at a macro-level to increase the productivity of the organisation as a whole. Some leaders also find it beneficial to share some work and/or life experience with their team to encourage teamwork and make themselves more relatable to the workforce.

Talking about personal experiences with your employees is a useful tool to promote cooperation, enhance trust and ultimately inspire positive change. Sir Richard Branson’s story is well-known amongst his employees from over 400 companies. Having launched his first successful company at 16 years-old, the young Londoner trumped dyslexia, crippling shyness and the negativity of family members who doubted his ostentatious ambitions; today, Branson has a net worth of $5.2 billion and is an inspirational leader to his entire organisation.

People were being exploited. People I care about, who’ve helped me so much, now have more dignity. The distraction of not having enough to cover the basics has gone - Dan Price

The Art of Empathy

Leaders that truly care about their employees’ wellbeing creates a firm foundation for a long-lasting and fruitful relationship. It is not enough to simple utter a few words or make half-hearted gestures; a great leader will be able to put themselves in the shoes of their workers and understand their needs. The top business leaders are often good listeners and possess an emotional intelligence, fervently acting on the problems they hear rather than ignoring them.

Dan Price, CEO of Gravity, was made aware of worrying issues experienced by his employees and decided to take a more hands-on approach to his business administration. One worker could not afford a reliable car to make his two-hour commute. Another was struggling because of the cost of living and the only apartment he could afford had no running water. Price looked into a 2010 research paper on income and happiness, which showed emotional wellbeing rises with income up to a cut-off point of $75,000. Based on their findings, Price dramatically cut his $1 million salary down to $70,000 and use the surplus to subsidise the rest of his workforce to improve their wellbeing. Each of his employees are now on an annual minimum wage of $70,000.

"When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour." - Elon Musk

Having a Vision

Every leader has ambition, but the great ones possess the vision to turn dreams and concepts into reality. A leadership vision provides a strategic plan of where the company is going, what they are trying to achieve, how they will accomplish it and, importantly, why everyone should pull together to attain this goal. Ultimately, a corporate vision is the flint used by a leader to spark the flame of inspiration amongst employees; a great leader will keep the fire going and work tirelessly to achieve that goal.

Musk’s former Head of HR at SpaceX said of the entrepreneur “The thing that makes Elon ‘Elon’ is his ability to make people believe in his vision.” Musk understands the need for leaders to muster employee support and connect at a deeper level to truly inspire them. His company, Tesla Motors, set an ambitious target of a 500,000-vehicles-a-year production goal by 2018. The eccentric entrepreneur spent nights sleeping on the factory floor to help get the job done and the added motivation of seeing a boss get involved in the ‘dirty work’ showed employees that their leader was fully invested in the vision he proclaimed, providing the substance behind the words.


Want to learn more about becoming a great business leader? Our Global MBA (Entrepreneurship) degree programme could be for you.

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