The personal nature of leadership

One of John McGill’s favourite ways of explaining the personal nature of leadership is by referring to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Inscribed in the forecourt is the phrase, ‘Know thyself’. 

Leadership, as opposed to management, can be defined as inspiring people rather than overseeing them. However, in the same way that success looks different for each organisation and all of the individuals working within it, the definition of leadership is specific to what a company aims to achieve.  

Understanding what leadership means within a business is key to learning how to develop it. 

A good leader has the ability to hire the right people and support them in creating an environment where they enjoy their job. Good recruits are interested in doing their job well and can get on without being hassled to do so. 

When the balance isn’t right, management can spend a detrimental amount of time overseeing people and dealing with team dynamics. A company cannot make progress with day-to-day jobs or the bigger picture if the basics of a productive employment relationship is not in place. 

Part of leadership is the ability to lead by example and demonstrate emotional intelligence. A leader must be able to ‘walk the talk’ to gain respect and garner enthusiasm amongst staff.  

With the current economy forcing a number of organisations to become more service focused, the skill of emotional intelligence -–being able to relate to others – is key now and for the future.  


Everyone can exhibit leadership 

It’s essential that leadership exists within the senior team, but it can be exhibited at all levels of an organisation. I have seen leadership behaviours across the board, including from employees with lower levels of accountability. 

The most important task in developing leadership skills is understanding that it is a personal journey. While some people have more natural leadership capabilities and others are less keen, the route to develop these skills is different for everyone.  

It is only when a person understands their own characteristics that they can identify what actions they need take.  

To improve personal leadership skills, a person must look closely at themselves, their job and how they do it. When employees are sent on leadership training days, they should consider the skills and advice they are given through a personal lens, and the ancient Greeks agreed.  

One of my favourite ways of explaining the personal nature of leadership is by referring to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Inscribed in the forecourt is the phrase, ‘Know thyself’. What the Greeks were trying to say was, ‘know what is inside of you’. The future direction of an organisation and the skills required to support it will always change. 

At times, they may need technical training, at others they need communication or organisation skills. What you need to do is know what your strengths are and understand how you can contribute to the workplace, whatever its direction or focus.   


How do you measure success? 

When it comes to performance reviews and standards by which to measure leadership capabilities, it’s important to be flexible.  

Any organisation can define what they value as good characteristics of leadership, but it will be specific to where the company is at that point in time.  

Five years from now, a business may have a very different focus and be looking for quite separate characteristics within the context of leadership. It’s not as simple as defining key characteristics that work across every company, or that remain unchanged as a business grows and adapts. 

The power and importance of understanding and working with colleagues to achieve very real and difficult goals has been highlighted in a recent article by American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. In examining how Abraham Lincoln drew his cabinet together in the 1860’s to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, the moral leadership and maturity of an individual bringing together a divided and disparate group almost defies belief. Lessons there for all of us.    M


John McGill is the CEO at Strategic Pay.

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