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What It Takes To Become A Great Leader (And Why It Starts With You)

What It Takes To Become A Great Leader (And Why It Starts With You)

Do you believe in the saying some [people] are born leaders, some achieve leadership, and some have leadership thrust upon them”?

It’s a sentiment attributed to Emirates CEO Maurice Flanagan (and of course reminiscent of Shakespeare’s reference to being born great).

What do you believe about leadership? 

In our recent blog Busting The Myths Of What It Really Takes To Be A Great Leader, we explored the importance of a beginner’s mind when it comes to leadership, and how training programmes fail to produce great leaders because they frequently skip the basics.

The truth about leadership

The bottom line is that leadership starts with you.

Coach and leadership trainer Julia Carter recently pointed out at one of our Elevate Talent membership sessions that the idea that people are born leaders is representative of only one type of leadership. It’s time to reframe leadership so that we recognise the truth about what it means, and all the different boxes we need to tick in order to be a leader.

Reframing leadership

We each have the potential to become a great leader. Each personality type has the power to lead once the intention has been set. To be a great leader you need to be self-aware and have the ability to self-regulate. It requires introspection: you need to know yourself, be able to identify your strengths and your challenges, and know what triggers you, because when you are triggered you become stressed and tense which makes you behave differently. 

As a leader you must behave consistently; if you are having an off moment, remove yourself from the situation until you can compose yourself.


Detecting and managing emotional and physiological changes requires you to strike the right balance, similar to Goldilocks tasting the porridge – hers needed to be not too hot and not too cold – except on this occasion it’s about positioning yourself so that you feel just right (not too much of one feeling, and not too little). For example, whenever one of our coaching clients travels a substantial distance, she’s mentally and physically exhausted for the next two days; she refrains from making any big decisions at that point because she knows she’s not at her best.

Calm and collected

To be a great leader, you need to develop and fine-tune your ability to manage pressure and stress so that you genuinely remain calm and collected regardless of what’s happening around you (this is not about putting on a brave face).

When you are calm and collected, your team members are more likely to trust you; they feel safe to approach you and follow your leadership.

To become a leader, you need to answer the who, what, why and when questions (we cover these in depth in our membership training). The author Rudyard Kipling summed it up perfectly in the opening verse of his poem I Keep Six Honest Serving Men:

I keep six honest serving-men [or in this case women!]

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When 

And How and Where and Who.

I send them over land and sea,

I send them east and west;

But after they have worked for me,

I give them all a rest.

(The full poem is available here.)

Examples of questions to ask yourself on your route to leadership

  • Who is in my network that can help me get noticed? (Strategic alliance.)
  • What is my long-term goal and what needs to happen to get there?
  • Why is promotion important to me? Why now?
  • When is the best time to broach the subject of promotion with my manager? (Hint, soon!)
  • How do I create new opportunities?

These questions form a potential framework for ongoing conversations with your manager. When you ask them about new career opportunities, they will see that you are determined to progress, and the fact that you are putting yourself firmly in the driving seat shows that you are actively willing to lead.

Are you waiting for the perfect opportunity?

The CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki shared the perfect reminder: “Life doesn’t always present you with the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. Opportunities come when you least expect them, or when you’re not ready for them. Rarely are opportunities presented to you in the perfect way, in a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. Opportunities, the good ones, they’re messy and confusing and hard to recognise. They’re risky. They challenge you.”

(Shared by Susan Wojcicki during her speech to the John Hopkins University class of 2014.)

If you are committed to becoming a leader, you need to have a plan and remember that even in times of chaos you still need to have a plan. If you don’t, you have a recipe for disaster and that rarely leads to leadership.

You are in charge of furthering your plan to become a leader. The self-awareness and skills you develop along the way will help give you the edge when it comes to taking that next step.

Leadership always begins with you. 

Are you ready to lead the way?

Have you set your mind on being promoted this year? Are you committed to breaking through the limiting beliefs and workplace challenges that hold you back? If so, get in touch with us to find out about the opportunities we offer to help you engage, empower and elevate your career.

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