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What Makes a Great Leader?


Expert analysis from Luke Mitchell, COO, SQS Ireland.

I’m a firm believer that leaders are made and not born. It is true that not everyone is a leader in purely business terms, but everyone has an opportunity to lead, whether as a parent, as captain of a sports team, in the community etc. Once you think about it, you have been a leader at some stage during your life. In the past and in some organisations, people were appointed to leadership roles by virtue of age, status, length of service or experience. Today’s leaders span all age groups, social classes and levels of experience – they are valued for the traits they can bring to the role. However, I believe every leader has a common set of fundamental traits that helps them to lead successful teams.


Good leaders are enthusiastic about what they want to achieve and also about their role. People engage more openly with someone who displays passion and dedication, someone who is seen as part of the team working towards collective goals. They are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and earn respect though participation.


We know things do not always go to plan. During times of uncertainty, the role of a leader is amplified. People look to them for reassurance and security; the leader needs to portray confidence and positivity. As a leader, learning to trust your own instinct is as important as your team learning to trust you. Remember, if it doesn’t feel right the chances are it’s not. Good leaders are tolerant of ambiguity and remain calm, composed and steadfast. Crises, often perceived, come and go and a good leader takes these as part of the journey and learns valuable lessons. 


Human beings are not all the same. We are aware of the obvious differences, however it is our pre-conditioned personality traits and value systems that greatly affect how information is processed and interpreted. Some people work well under pressure, others don’t. Some respond best to tough love, others take it personally and shut down. Leaders must have the ability to adapt their approach on a person by person basis and often based on the situation at hand. The ability to tap into people’s strengths and emotions will play a huge part in getting the best out of a team.

Lead - don’t manage

While leaders lead, managers manage. Simple? Well not quite. Managers are seen to be the organisers and the controllers - the people who get things done day to day. Leaders are the charismatic, big-picture visionaries, the ones who change things at a strategic level. In reality though, there are times when every leader manages and every manager leads. It’s all relative. Simple!  

Finally, accept that everyone makes mistakes. When you do, admit it, learn from it but don’t feel undermined. Keep moving forward, be resilient and keep smiling.

Luke Mitchell, COO, SQS Ireland

We want your thoughts on What Makes a Great Leader and we would be delighted if you would consider putting pen to paper in a 500 word blog sharing your views on what qualities and attributes set the best leaders apart. Subject to space, we will be featuring responses received on our website and through LinkedIn and Twitter over the next six weeks.

If you would like to take part, or to find out more, please contact Kelli O’Malley at komalley@iodireland.ie.

The views expressed in the posts and comments of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Directors in Ireland. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. The content of this blog is for information purposes only and the Institute of Directors in Ireland is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied.