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What is Leadership?

Leadership means different things to different people, at different times, in different situations. With such a variety of meaning, perhaps it’s unsurprising that we suggest you don’t waste time trying to define it. 

But if you cannot define leadership then how can you practice it, especially amidst the complexity of the specific business situation that you face?  

One of the leading authorities on ‘How leaders lead’ is Professor Steve Kempster, who is our Masterclass speaker on the LEAD™ program this month.  

Steve addresses the thorny question of “Are leaders born?”, arguing that leadership can be learnt and owner-managers learn leadership in the cauldron of their business. The difficulty is that most business leaders spend too much time working in their business and do not have the time to step back, consider and reflect on what leadership means to them, to their business and therefore how to improve the current situation. This is a theme we discussed recently with a group of business people during the two-day leadership experiential that we run at the beginning of every LEAD™ program. 

Steve promotes the notion of the leader as an apprentice – learning on the job. Now, that is quite a statement to make as most people in an organisation look to the leader for vision and direction. Imagine admitting you’re serving your apprenticeship! The truth is that we can all learn; we can all improve. The issue is opening one’s mind to self-improvement. Over two hundred and fifty of our LEAD™ Alumni and delegates have already vaulted that by coming on LEAD™. In effect they are ‘agents for change’. 

Whilst hundreds of thousands of books on leadership have been written, there is no agreed definition of what ‘good’ leadership looks like, which doesn’t help those of us who are trying to develop our leadership skills.   

Jack Welch, former Chairman of GE, voted manager of the 20th century devised a formula for effective leadership which we encourage the delegates on all of our programs to embrace:


wording that says Effective leadership = values x results


What the formula reminds us is that as leaders, we can’t just focus on the day-to-day tasks, our KPIs or turnover and profit margins. Values are the glue that binds a senior management team, the wider leadership group and the organisation together. These are especially important as a business grows so that the richness of the original venture is not lost, especially as the business expands onto different floors in offices, into different buildings or onto different sites. The essence of ‘what makes you, you’ needs to be bottled.  

One such business who has worked with his team to create company-wide values is Mark Stewart, CEO of second generation family business, Stewart Golf. Mark believes, “As you grow and expand the company employing more staff, values become more essential.”  Mark saw the benefit in involving the whole team in creating the Stewart Golf values / behaviours to increase buy-in, and asked them to describe the character traits of their ideal colleague / Stewart Golf team member. Their suggestions were then discussed in group sessions before the team agreed on their four core values:


Values of Stewart Golf - Team Player, Take Pride, Positive, Respectful


Another business which has seen the benefit of establishing a framework of core values and behaviours is Bristol based mechanical engineering firm, Cosgrove and Drew Engineering. “We have always had a site-wide mantra of ‘Quality delivered Safely,’” explains joint MD, Zac Cosgrove, “and one of the first steps we took having joined the LEAD™ program was to work with every employee from apprentices through to our directors to develop what we call our “6C” framework. We recognised that establishing values or behaviours would drive the entire business ethos at all levels with research confirming that employees who identify strongly with company values demonstrate higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction, which in turn leads to increased productivity and overall performance. By involving the whole team we were able to ensure that our behaviour framework is both relevant and effective.” 


3Cs from Cosgrove & Drew - Conviction, Composure, Competence


If you would like to understand more about leadership, please have a look at our LEAD™ program for owner-managers, directors and senior managers, or get in touch with Jo Draper here.

Our next LEAD™ program starts in November.

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