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Why leadership is important in business

May 2017

When we think of great leaders, it’s easy to imagine former presidents pacing the floors of the White House or a high-flying CEO in a private jet.

In reality, there’s much more to successful leadership than board meetings and decision making power. We explore some of the ways that great leaders can succeed in developing healthy, balanced companies with happy, engaged employees.

Empowering staff

When Richard Teerlink joined Harley Davidson in 1981 as chief financial officer, the company had just reported an annual loss of $15 million and gained a bad reputation for its poor-quality products. After a series of drastic measures, he managed to turn the brand around and went on to stay with the company for 18 years, proving himself as one of the US’s most successful business leaders. When quizzed on leadership qualities, Teerlink said that empowering employees was one of the most important things a manager could do. By giving talented staff the tools to complete the job, rather than telling them what to do, teams will grow and flourish independently. As well as encouraging delegation and distribution of the workload, people who have more autonomy at work will be happier and more fulfilled. And according to a recent study by Warwick University, happy people are 12% more productive in the work place,  meaning leaders are likely to see better results.

For leaders to successfully support the future development of talent, they’ll need to listen to what their employees want and need, to offer them new learning opportunities and the chance to develop their skills on their own terms.

Positivity, energy and confidence

Effective branding has never been more important to companies, so it’s no surprise that the most successful CEOs have etched their business values in their psyche like an invisible tattoo. That passion is integral to the success of any brand and the best leaders are renowned for sharing their positivity – something that’s catching on in the business world. A 2015 study by Harvard Business Review and Ernst and Young showed that companies with a strong sense of purpose are more innovative and tend to have higher levels of employee satisfaction, as well as better performance.
The ‘morale effect’ is also relevant for sports teams, with many basketball and baseball leaders turning around an unsuccessful team by building confidence and instilling belief in their players.

Whether it’s on the pitch or in a board room, people need a leader they can rely on to bring positive energy and offer continued support.

Personal development

Apple and Microsoft are rival companies, so when they formed a partnership, it’s easy to see why eyebrows were raised. But when it comes to successful leadership, business strategy always comes before ego and glory. The mark of a strong leader isn’t to bulldoze through a team to get your own way, but to compromise and build partnerships, learning from and listening to other talented employees in the business. The most successful CEOs don’t just focus on the positives, they recognise their own strengths and weaknesses, to assess where they can learn and grow. A great leader doesn’t sit still and ride on the coattails of their success, they make an active effort to stay engaged and keep developing in their role. Many famous leaders- like Steve Jobs- focus on the importance of innovation and constantly moving with market trends- wherever they may go.

By remaining flexible and destructive, leaders can move their business quickly in new directions, boosting creativity along the way.

Driving communication and teambuilding

Mary Barra gained a name for herself when she became the first female leader of a major automotive company, taking on the role of CEO at General Motors. Knowing that good communication skills contribute to success, she made it her mission to create a positive company culture and reduce bureaucracy, to boost staff engagement and increase productivity. By the time Barra reached a leadership role, she’d worked her way up the company, meaning she had excellent insight into the brand’s evolving culture and communication styles. Holding regular ‘hall meetings’ to gain advice on projects, she engaged teams directly with the work of the company and was renowned for being a good listener and strong decision maker. Her legacy proves that great leaders aren’t afraid to drive communication, even if it means the company ends up with more question marks than answers.

If employees are unhappy and failing to engage, a great leader is willing to change the culture of the organisation to retain talented staff and drive them towards success. Investing in purposeful and fun team building activities to foster communication and improve staff engagement, they’ll do what it takes to build a successful team.

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