Great Leaders Are Made, Not Born

December 20, 2019
Darryl Cooke

Executive Chairman

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All great achievers make what they do look simple, whether they are great sportsmen or great orators. Leadership is no different. The more you read the more you practice the simpler and easier it will become. Leadership that just becomes part of you – a better you. A more authentic you. It will be seen just as much in your home as it will at your place of work. You can’t turn the switch on and off because it becomes the authentic you. And it is simple.

Some of these skills you will have acquired because of your life experiences. Some skills you will have in more abundance than others. Some skills you will have learnt from others and some from study. Some skills you won’t have, or you will have hardly any of. The key is to have them all and in the right balance. To do that requires learning and self-discipline.

So, for example a key to good leadership is optimism. Optimism is a force multiplier. But you can’t always be optimistic so you must distance yourself from an emotional attachment. In the same way it’s OK to show anger, but you must remain in control and not be overtaken by emotion. Only that way can your response be balanced. Controlling your emotions puts everything into perspective. From the moment that you wake up and prepare for the day ahead – ask yourself “just how good can life get” and put perspective around everything that lies ahead.

Finding and maintaining a balanced mind requires discipline and practice. It creates resilience, kindness, compassion. It creates personal happiness and as a result is one of the best gifts that you can give yourself. The discipline and practice will come from the forming of good habits that become central to your life. A level 5 leader referred to by Jim Collins in Good to Great is the making of a leader who puts his organisation before him or herself. The best leader says Collins is the humble leader who puts his business and his people first – the servant leader.  To do that, the leader must at some point have put himself first to develop the required skills. That is not a contradiction. A leader must learn the skills that will make him or her a better leader.

Collins also talks about organisations that never achieve great because they are prepared to settle for good. Good is the enemy of Great. There are lots of good schools but not many great schools, lots of good universities but not many great universities, good hospitals but few great hospitals, many good companies but few truly great ones. Beginning a business and just surviving is a major success judging by the numbers that don’t succeed in the first three years. So, to achieve good is another form of success if longevity has been reached. But to move to greatness is the responsibility of one person alone and that is the leader. It will be him or her that will both set that vision, bring the key people with him or her and create the structures that will lead to greatness. He or she must prepare themselves for that role.

Great leaders do not let complacency seep into their organisations. They are constantly ‘on’ the business, like a helicopter above the ground, constantly considering the next move. Leaders are the most competitive person in the organisation. They seek perfection. I think it was Jack Welch who said, “if you stand still you watch your competitors pass you by.” If it wasn’t, I am owning it. No sportsmen can stand still. No business can stand still. Constant improvement is a must.

Great leadership is not an accident. It is learnt from mentors, from experiences and most of all from books and the thinking already done by others.

Great leaders are made. They are not born. They are created from hard work, discipline, failure, resilience and a passion to achieve.