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What makes a great leader?

At the end of January I was one of the many people stood listening to the presentation that our co-founder Rachel Clacher gave on ‘the importance of being human’ at The Guild’s annual conference. 

In it she posed the question: what kind of leader does your team need, and want, to thrive?  

It’s a question that I’m sure most managers or business owners will have asked themselves at some point. I know it’s certainly a question that Rachel has spent a great deal of time thinking about. 

There is, of course, no black and white answer – but there are a number of things that every employee wants and the best leaders are those who can deliver these effectively.

So, here are six ways Rachel shared on how to do just that…

1. Show you care 

Top of the list in what employees want from their managers is a ‘genuine concern’ for others,  according to research. This beats other qualities like determination, decisiveness and achievements hands down. 

So take time to chat to your team, show an interest in their work, their life and how they feel. Recognise milestones and say thank you – for the small, as well as the big things. 

It’s easy to overlook these in a busy day, but they soon add up and really do make all the difference. 

Bad communication is the root of so many problems, while great communication, in contrast can be the key to success. 

2. The three ‘C’s

As human beings there are a number of things we need in life to be happy. We want to feel secure and confident, we need to be trusted and we want to deal with people who are honest and authentic. 

In the world of business, the same rules apply – and this roughly translates as:  certainty, clarity and consistency. The three ‘C’s. 

The most successful leaders are those who can provide their team with these fundamental requirements. The leaders who make sure their team know what great looks like, and who will help them get there. 

3. Always leave the door open

From John Lewis to Google, some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world have moved away from a traditional organisational hierarchy. 

Why? Opting for a ‘flatter’ approach makes employees feel valued, trusted and engaged. Rachel, and her brother Ed Reeves who co-founded Moneypenny, came to this same realisation early on. 

They also recognised that the best ideas often come from those on your frontline. After all – they’re the people who know your clients best, so encourage feedback and listen to what they have to say. 

A few years ago we set up a ‘suggestions’ box in the office; a place where employees can jot down their light bulb moments. 

The best of these are then presented with our internal MOJO awards, and have their name on our ‘wall of fame’. 

Being open to feedback can have huge commercial benefits for any business. 

4. Carrot vs. the stick

Think of Alan Sugar; then think of Richard Branson. As business owners they couldn’t be much different in their approach to leadership. 

Lord Sugar with his blunt, non-negotiable attitude; and Virgin-tycoon Sir Richard Branson with his staff-centric initiatives like ‘duvet days’ and unlimited holidays. 

Which one would you prefer to work for? Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and consider what would make them perform at their best. 

It could be good holidays, the option to work flexibly or the opportunity to develop their career prospects. Or it might be great incentives, like regular social events and opportunities to win a weekend skiing if they hit their targets. 

Most likely it will be a combination of all of the above. Ask your team what it is that will motivate them. 

And more importantly, what will continue to keep them motivated after one, three, or even 20 years. 

5. A failsafe litmus test

Every decision made here boils down to this, our failsafe litmus test: are we treating people the way we’d like to be treated ourselves? 

It’s a simple question, but one that has the power to be incredibly illuminating if answered honestly. Really honestly. 

Think about your own company and put that question to yourself. Is it somewhere you would want to apply for a job and be happy working? Are the benefits you offer genuine and substantial? Are there opportunities for progression? Are employees excited about the future of the business? 

If the answer isn’t yes, it could be time to reconsider your approach. 

6. Keep staff engaged

There's one thing that connects each of the above – they're great ways to engage staff. Why’s that important? Engaged employees – I.e. those who feel like they belong to a company and are appreciated by their employer – will go over and above for customers; increasing productivity and revenue. 

However, just 17% of UK staff would consider themselves ‘engaged’ according to a recent study. A further 57% said they weren’t engaged and 26% were actively disengaged. A sobering thought. 

No business can afford to risk losing its best staff and foot the continual costs of a high turnover. 

People are at the heart of every business; look after them and success won’t be far behind.

*Samantha Jones is Commercial Manager of Corporate and Property at telephone answering specialist Moneypenny

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