Insight article

Being a good leader – and learning from mistakes

I’m in the middle of Allan Leighton’s book on Leadership, which is refreshingly honest and down to earth. It gives some fascinating insights from some of the captains of industry on the qualities of a good leader, illustrated through their own stories, drawn from their own experiences. Sir Philip Green, Surinder Arora, Stuart Rose, Jacqueline Gold, Richard Baker, Justin King, James Dyson….the list goes on.

What I love about this book is the sheer honesty of some of these leaders, including Allan Leighton himself. The stories told about their success demonstrate qualities such as self-belief, perserverance, getting close to your people and understanding the jobs they do, good communication, listening, acting on gut feeling, taking a leaf out of others’ book(s) (ie copying good ideas!), and constantly adapting to change.

But what jumped out at me was the humility of some of these great figureheads and business icons – unafraid to talk about the mistakes they have made and how they have learned from them. There are plenty of hints and tips throughout (‘Leadership Lesssons’), but it seems to me that one of the great qualities as a leader is to admit, publicly, that they don’t always know more than others, that they are not always right, and that sometimes you have to eat humble pie before moving on. The masses in the organisation will respect you all the more for it. We are only human, after all, and as Allan points out, you can’t lead a huge organisation at the age of forty having done it all yourself.

I couldn’t possibly pick out one quote that summarises all this… you will have to read the book. There is a lot about change, including Theory E (economically-driven CEO’s who focus on restructure, cost-savings etc) and Theory O (organisationally-driven CEO’s who focus on getting the best out of their people in times of change). There is also a useful checklist to identify how good or bad your organisation is (the 7 C’s test). All I would say, is that whatever your view of Mr Leighton and his approach to business, some of his advice is just basic, human and makes total and utter sense.

Nailia Tasseel