Words by: Dianne Sharp

Being a great leader. What’s the secret? Where’s the recipe for success? Well, there’s certainly no handbook.

When I first started out in a management position quite early on in my career it was based on how good I was at my job. That’s usually the case, right? You work hard, master your craft, add value to the business and you’re rewarded with a promotion. Result.

But hang on, what about all these other direct reports you’re now responsible for, other people’s career development in your hands? You can’t just fly solo now and look out for numero uno. Your team needs you to lead them, the business needs you to unlock their potential. Do any of us really know how to do that?!

Every leader has a different style and a different group of people that will have different needs depending on their role and experience, so one approach certainly doesn’t fit all. Leadership development takes time. Making mistakes is inevitable and it’s a continuous learning curve. At DKS Straightforward we don’t believe in training days to tick a box in your PDR. Our delegates are committed to developing themselves, understanding their needs, their teams’ needs and the needs of their business. It’s focusing on understanding and adapting behaviour for best results.

Having  spent the past 25 years both researching the right methods and managing people, I’ve found that there are five key traits that stand out in a great leader.

1. Transparency

Having worked in both finance and pharmaceutical industries, I understand the need for discretion. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve said too much and opened a can of worms. Teams understand that you can’t share everything, but share what you can AND be honest about the fact that you can’t share certain pieces of information or answer a particular question. Trust is the foundation of any relationship  and avoidance or lying undermines all of that. Trust your team and they’ll trust you back – you’ll then see ten-fold back from the relationships you have created.

2. Know yourself

How can you lead others until you understand how to lead yourself? No-one is perfect and that’s okay. Acknowledge that, work on improving those weaknesses and openly admit when you fall below team standards. Holding your hand up and being accountable is strength not weakness. Finding a solution is and sharing the learnings is even more potent.

3. Walk the walk and set the standard

We’ve all been in that situation where you’re sat in a meeting with your manager and they’re displaying attributes of the double standard. Asking you to do things that they don’t or disciplining you on things that they often do. No one likes feeling like there’s one rule for one and one rule for everyone else. A great leader exhibits all the behaviours they expect their team to live. They literally, ‘lead by example’. A team that feels aligned with you will be a team that respects you and wants to do well for you.

4. Be flexible

No two leaders are alike, no two employees are alike and no two situations are alike. Everyone has a leadership style and that’s okay but remembering that each person in your team has different nuances , strengths and weaknesses will allow you to flex your style accordingly. 

Every great leader knows their team well, understands how they work differently and is able to unlock true potential.  

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

You need to build the vision and get buy-in from everyone in your team, align all activities around that vision and let everyone know how the team is progressing, and what route changes are needed along the way. Remember you are the one in the helicopter with the best view; you need to keep the team on the ground up to date with where they are going, the progress they are making and the obstacles that may be ahead. Keeping them in the dark will only erode the trust you’ve built. Remember the old BT advert – it’s good to talk!

So, what makes a great leader? Someone who’s transparent and honest with their teams, communicating often. Someone who knows themselves well and sets the standard for their team. How many do you tick?


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