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Posted by Sarah Brown on 04 May '17

The secret to success - great leadership

Success depends on knowing where you are going and how you will get there and that is the role of the leader

The critical importance of leadership, is illustrated by the research by Ivey Business School indicating that the 2008 financial crisis which impacted the whole world and cost trillions in jobs, homes and lost productivity could have been avoided with good leadership.

I passionately believe that leadership is critical to success whatever the size or type of organisation, we are even leaders of our own lives. There are three critical roles for a leader which should all result in everyone being empowered to do their best.


I think when you have big dreams you attract other big dreamers

Dr Robert H. Schuller

Firstly, to achieve success and know you have achieved it there needs to be a clear goal or destination; every organisation and person for success needs to need where they are going and a leader should ensure there is a clear vision in place – the purpose which inspires people.

You need people who are inspired and excited by your vision and that means it needs to be clear and shared. According to researchers[1] “Effective visions expressed values that allow employees to identify with the organisation” And a clear vision also gives people the opportunity to realise that the vision is not for them so that they can find another vision to follow elsewhere.

The vision of success is what helps people to keep going when it gets tough and its power is shown in charities where people who are volunteers with no financial or legal commitment put so much effort in. Businesses can be equally inspirational if they take the time to create and share an inspiring vision.

Three of the largest companies that are relatively new have visions that are clear and simple:

  • Amazon exists so that “people can find and discover anything they want to buy online,”
  • Facebook wants “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,”
  • Google aims “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”


Clarifying the value system and breathing life into it are the greatest contributions a leader can make

In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman

Secondly, everyone going on the journey to the destination needs to know how they are going to travel to their goal; this means everyone needs to know the values and behaviour that is expected and these need to be universal across the organisation. A great leader ensures the values of the organisation are ‘real’ and apply to everyone.

Values set priorities and ways of acting, even if you haven’t identified clear values your staff will guess at the values of the company and they will follow them if they are unspecified. The classic

“this is the way we do things around here”

It is scientifically proven that behaviour is contagious whether it be good or bad so once good behaviour based on values becomes the norm it will be adopted by new staff as the organisation grows. But scarily bad behaviour is just as contagious, I took over a sales force, for example, where it was custom and practise to inflate expenses claims. Legally I could do nothing about the past as it had been the accepted custom! I had to change the values going forward.

It is no longer what you do that matters most and sets you apart from others, but how you do what you do. Sustainable advantage and enduring success - both for companies and the people who work for them - now lie in the realm of how, the new frontier of conduct

Dov Seidman


The above two are meaningless if there is not a culture of taking action so that is the third role of a leader to set a tone of doing things, going forward rather than talking about it. There are too many large organisations that create business plans which are 100’s of pages long but take no action so nothing is achieved

Particularly in the digital era the need to act with a sense of urgency and respond to market needs is critical and the leadership of a business must embody that responsiveness. However action needs to be focused on achieving the vision and reflecting the values, action for action’s sake is not the basis for success.

Many visionaries have had people around them to make the action happen; Bill Gates had a vision of a world where computers could help us reach our potential but it was Paul Allen who built the company. Gates now has a vision of a world without malaria but it is charities that are implementing it. Steve Jobs had the vision for Apple, but Steve Wozniak was the engineer putting it into action. Walt Disney had the vision, Roy his brother had the business know-how. “If it hadn’t been for my big brother, I’d have been in jail several times for checks bouncing. I never knew what was in the bank. He kept me on the straight and narrow” said Walt Disney in 1957.

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes time. Vision with action can change the world but needs to be within a framework of values

It is not always the great leaders that history remembers or praises, as great leadership is about ensuring the detail is right and creating the environment for others to succeed. It may include inspiration, but that can be achieved in other ways, particularly if the purpose is inspirational, but it must always achieve an environment where people are empowered and able to achieve that purpose. That is what makes great organisations.

We have a free tool to help you find out more about your values, and if you want to know how good your corporate culture is, then we can help; here are details of our Corporate Culture Review, which provides an ethical audit.

Other articles you may find interesting

Why values are the key foundation of a strong corporate culture

Creating an inspirational vision

Any Cows come up to you recently - why we need to take action

[1] Source: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

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