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What Makes a Great Leader?

The ways of doing business are changing and so are the workforce’s expectations for leadership teams.

How would you describe your leadership approach and how does it differ from what you’ve experienced in your career?

My approach to leadership is quite inclusive, pretty non-hierarchical. I value the input of my team. This is quite different from the leadership approaches I've encountered in my career. They’ve been very directive and got involved in the details too much. I believe that one of the most effective characteristics of leadership is the ability to trust your team. For me, good leadership skills entail a combination of earning your trust as a leader and trusting the team at the right time.

How did you learn this different style of managing people?

I never had any formal training on how to be a leader. It is probably more that you develop your own style by gaining an understanding of what good leadership skills mean to you and what works for your team. A huge part of it was knowing which kind of leader I didn’t want to be. Ultimately, you should be true to yourself. If you’re trying to portray a person or be a different person in the office, that won’t work.

The most successful entrepreneurs all seem to have been lone warriors. From Henry Ford to Steve Jobs: ingenious, tyrannical, egocentric. Why are bosses suddenly supposed to go on a cuddly course and break down hierarchies?

The tycoons of the past certainly had their own personalities, but they were also a product of the setting they were operating in. Today, an important and good leadership skill to have is empathy. Leaders are supposed to be more empathetic, as they are functioning in an environment that has seen a cultural shift. For example,  look at personal well-being and mental health—these topics were not on the workplace agenda even as recently as five to ten years ago. Changes in people’s expectations for what they want from work, influence the leadership approaches.

But isn’t it still true that success is the most powerful motivation?

To make a business successful, you need a lot of drive and ambition. Maybe you must also be egocentric to be focused, in order to get things done. However, credit for success cannot be given to one person alone; Steve Jobs surrounded himself with a team that brought in elements of what he lacked. If immediate reports and contacts can deal with a certain leadership approach—and the team’s skill set and working style is complementary and brings together the right experience—that can make a business truly successful. The set-up does rely on someone with a broader emotional intelligence, however, to make it work.


The next generation supposedly yearns for a collaborative leadership approach. Where does this desire come from and has this statement ever been verified?

I come from a generation where you had to work hard to make your way up the career ladder, few questions asked. Today, people are looking for something more well-rounded. They are picking jobs based on whether there is a slide in the office, which may sound funny, but it is representative of the whole working environment. Whether that is the physical office or the people you are working with and hopefully learning from. There’s also more hunger and a willingness to contribute. People want to understand why they are doing things and how it fits into the bigger picture.

Has digitization changed the way people want to work, or are digitization and agile methods the answers to younger people’s expectations of collaborative work?

Digitization has, in some way, facilitated broader access and more transparency to everything we do. I think social media has, to some extent, made the way people think about their career paths much more competitive. For ambitious people, greater consideration goes into “What is my next move?” and “How can I talk about what I’ve done?” This transparency is an important factor in driving expectations about the workplace.

The key for a leader is to be agile and willing to adapt to changing environments— and to find resources to act as expert advisors and implementers.

In many cases, companies try to build new technology-driven functions and departments that should get them into the era of digitization, but they don’t know how to be an attractive employer. What should leaders do?

Bringing in skills at the right time is hugely important. The worst possible scenario would be to hire talented young people with fantastic skills you think you might need, but then they get bored and leave because you don’t use them effectively.

With digitization, there are so many changes in such a short time; this is where a network of resources from COMATCH comes into its own. It allows companies to bring in people with the right skillset when they are required. Things can develop to a point where you need to hire, or you decide to go on with external expert resources. Businesses are already thinking through having flexible pools of resources that they can dip into and use when they need them. Especially for businesses in transition periods, it can become very lonely at the top when you have nobody to consult with. The key for a leader is to be agile and willing to adapt to changing environments—and to find resources to act as expert advisors and implementers.

What will the leader of the future look like?

An effective leadership characteristic of the future would entail a willingness to work on oneself. It is important to have that insight. There are two effective leadership characteristics that make great leaders who people want to follow: it is being humble and emphatic. Great leaders will admit when they are wrong because we all know that nobody has all the answers all the time. Leaders should also be comfortable expressing their softer side.

Furthermore, you have to surround yourself with a strong team, listen to different perspectives and views to make good decisions. On the other hand, you can’t allow yourself to be afraid to make tough decisions. Particularly if you are changing the organization, but people should understand why a decision has been made.