What makes a great business leader?

One of the most common questions I have been asked at job interviews is what makes me a great leader.  You would have thought by now that I would have developed a standard answer but it always makes me think.

Part of the problem is that like most of the current CIO generation, over the years I have spent too many hours in training rooms learning about leadership.

I know the difference between an ISTJ  (introversion, sensing, thinking, judgment) and an ENFP  (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception).  I have climbed trees and built rafts.  I can draw a situational leadership curve. I have at least seven habits and have stolen the cheese.  On my shelves at home I must have 30 different books on leadership. I even have two sets
of those coloured bricks that were all the fashion ten years ago.

And yet despite all that education I still find it hard to answer the question because people mean so many different things when they talk about leadership.  Is it the Henry the Fifth speeches taking our teams into battle with suppliers, "the business" or sadly too infrequently our competitors?

Is leadership the one to one coaching of our direct reports, encouraging and cajoling them to see their own potential and smooth off those rough edges?  Is it that individual thing of each of us taking ownership for our results? Or is it being prepared to stand up in the Board for what we believe in, however unpopular?  I guess it must be all of these.  And I believe it is also
instinct.  I'm not quite ready to agree that leaders are born and not made. I think it is a learned skill like so many others.  But I believe that much of what makes me the leader I am (good or bad) is now unconscious competence, and I follow my gut rather than a manual.

I'm still not sure how to answer the question.  Perhaps I will go with the simplest leadership definition of all.  A great leader is just someone that people choose to follow - whatever that takes.

What are your thoughts? Share your ideas with the CIO Editor in Chief Mark Chillingworth at mark_chillingworth@idg.co.uk

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