Great leadership. One trick ponies need not apply

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Great leadership. The immortal words that every business person – aspiring or established – wants attributing to them and their style.

But just what is that essential ingredient that makes you not only a leader, but a great leader?

It is something that has eluded, and continues to elude, organisations and business figures the world over. And it is a topic that continues to burn the lips of many a commentator.

Writing his now seminal piece in the Harvard Business Review in 2000, Daniel Goleman, explored this very topic. And, as is to be expected of the father of emotional intelligence, when it comes to leadership, EQ lies at its heart.

Throughout my own 25 year career I have been exposed to leadership and its very many faces. I have observed, in earnest, those that display the quintessential qualities that have the power to maximise potential and performance. Engaging and empowering effortlessly and driving results and cultural wellbeing.

I have also watched, with equal intent but with high doses of trepidation, those self-proclaimed leaders that incite cold sweats and evoke fight and flight tendencies.

So, how can leadership styles and their outcomes be polarised to such an extent?

In his article, and citing contemporary research, Goleman depicts great leaders as those who can use – and call on – a range of styles to suit what is needed in any situation and have the gift of identifying what is required in any given point to bring the best out in others.

He discusses six styles of leadership, each – as you would imagine from Goleman – deriving from emotional intelligence. Each has idiosyncrasies that influence and direct the atmosphere and culture of individuals, teams and organisations to drive performance, financial or other.

Crucially, Goleman identified that a great leader is a master of each of these styles and does not rely on any single one. Using the analogy of a pro-golfer choosing the club that best suits the shot, he acknowledges that a great leader will pull on the relevant style (or golf club) dependent on the situation and the individual.

In a continually evolving business environment, a leader needs to be receptive to the flexing needs of their leadership style – ready to employ the necessary tool at the right time and in the correct dose – and have the awareness that one size certainly doesn’t fit all.

At its very heart, inspirational leadership is anything that makes people want to give the very best of themselves and inspires people to go further and engage. Leadership can never be a hole in one.