The skills needed to be a good leader
I was very much looking forward to the recent IoD Directors’ Skills Day in York. About 50 business leaders from all parts of the country gathered for a series of talks and workshops.
I know they were from all parts of the country because we had just completed the introductions when a series of bright flashes in my right eye had me heading for A&E and a check over by the fine people from our NHS.
The Skills Day was very well received and will be repeated. As I didn’t get to participate, I fell to considering what skills are required of a business leader in 2018. I came up with the following:
The ability to make money. Business is business. The point of the exercise is to make money. Without money, the lifeblood of a business, it can’t do anything. Therefore the first duty of a director is to organise a business so that it is generates income at the required level in excess of its outgoings to ensure viability. For the purposes of this short piece I’m going to include people skills, communication skills and marketing skills as a sub-set of the ability to make money. If you don’t have strong skills in any of these then you need to hire people who do!
The ability to plan. A business needs a plan. It needs clarity of purpose, a mission. It needs objectives so that actions can be focussed on delivering agreed outcomes. Budgets can then be built to provide the economic foundation of the plan.
The ability to think quickly and react when needed. This attribute may soon be tested like never before. The impact of whatever outcome we arrive at with the Brexit negotiations will impact businesses. It’s always easy to assume that any downturn in the economy will look like the previous one. We naturally try to learn from experience. However, whatever happens, it’s likely that it will happen differently from, say, the financial crisis of 2007/8 or the recession of the early 90s. Business leaders will have their mettle tested as they react to any turbulence in markets and the economy. They will have to assess whether it is short-term noise or long-term structural shift and act on that assessment.
Having courage and/or a thick skin. See the type of critical decision making referred to above. Whatever call is made, plenty of people will disagree. Business leaders need to have confidence that their plan is right. You can get that confidence from being a certain type of character. More reliably you can get it from analysis of your business and its markets, interest and engagement in the wider business world, educational and development events such as the IoD’s skills days and ensuring that you have a Board which provides constructive challenge and criticism. A tested plan or decision tends to be better that an untested one.
Having a social purpose. Locally we have levels of poverty and inequality of wealth with which we should not be comfortable. At a regional level we need to help resolve political differences to get Yorkshire devolution and the Northern Powerhouse up, running and creating wealth.
It may also have come to your attention that the planet is in trouble. There’s not much point building a great business if it doesn’t have a planet to be on.
Big challenges; but it you want to be a business leader perhaps these should be the reasons you signed up.
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Jonathan Oxley, Northern Powerhouse Ambassador and former regional chairman, Institute of Directors