The 7 Hardest Things About Being A Leader

Leadership is not a simple business and is certainly full of challenges. It comes easier to some people than others, but the key skills required can all be learnt. Everyone will find certain elements of being a leader more difficult than others, but being a good leader involves a range of skills that must be mastered. Here is my list of those essential elements of leadership which I think can provide us with the greatest challenges:

1. Outlining the vision and keeping people focussed on it:
One of the most fundamental roles of leadership is to articulate the vision of the business. The leader must know where the business is heading and what the overall purpose is behind all the day to day tasks and activities. Keeping everyone else focused on this and understanding why they are doing what they are doing is an ongoing challenge. It is all too easy to get side-tracked into detail, which can result in parts of the organisation going off at tangents and doing things that do not contribute to the aims of the business.

2. Giving critical feedback:
Developing the team and achieving high performance can only be achieved when people are given feedback on how they are doing. This will be both positive and critical, but sometimes it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations about aspects of behaviour or performance that require attention. Leaders have to work to develop relationships with team members that allow open and honest communication about things that aren’t going so well, not just the good stuff.

3. Seeking feedback and learning from it:
The flip-side of giving critical feedback is seeking it and dealing with it appropriately. Employees are unlikely to volunteer information about things you do or fail to do that would allow them work more productively or develop. You as the leader need to actively seek this feedback and show by word and deed that what they say will not be held against them. When you get feedback it can take some time to digest and understand what you can learn from it. Resist the urge to defend yourself or justify your actions. Realise that this is how things are from where they are and consider what you can do about it.

4. Allowing others to develop:
A key part of your job as leader is to know when to intervene and when to get out of the way and let other people shine. Talented people are ambitious and want to play a real role in developing ideas and achieving results. Part of the leader role is to help people develop by providing support rather then giving them the answers. There is no point expecting to hold onto talented people forever, but your business will benefit most from them, and retain them for longer, if you help them to develop professionally.

5. Advocating change and following through on delivery:
Leaders have to be the one person in the organisation who loves change. It is a well known fact that most people do not welcome change and many will actively resist it. You are not leading your business if you are not looking for and dealing with continual change. Delivering on long term aims can be really challenging if it involves significant changes. It can be difficult anyway, but when the aims involve making changes, it can take a huge level of energy and commitment to take other people with you. It comes down to the leader to be a consistent source of energy who will stay focused on carrying changes through to delivery.

6. Admitting when you are wrong and saying sorry:
One of the qualities of the most effective leaders is that they are ‘human’. People can relate to them as real people who, like them, have home lives, personal feelings and the same human frailties as anyone else. Everyone makes mistakes and it is important to acknowledge your mistakes rather than pretend that you are perfect. So accept that it is normal and acceptable to make mistakes and be open about admitting these promptly and apologising if that is appropriate.

7. Staying positive when things go wrong:
Failure is an unavoidable part of business and there are of course times when things are not going as well as you would like them to. The leader plays a vital role in setting the tone of morale in an organisation. People will look to you as an indicator of how things are and what this means for the business. For that reason you do need to remain positive even when you do not feel that way.

How A Great Leader Can Be A Bad Manager

Is it possible to be both great and awful at two things which seem to be so inextricably linked?

Jekyll and Hyde

Leadership and Management are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact distinctly different things. Leadership is a part of the role of every manager, but great leaders do not have to be great at management.

Directing people is part of the role of every manager and that does involve some elements of leadership, but a manager can still do a good job without being a particularly great leader. A great leader, however, can be pretty awful at many aspects of management. Having said that, they are unlikely to be really successful as a leader without having at least a good understanding of what an important and essential role management plays in their business.

Here are three examples of how a good leader can do without some of the skills and qualities considered essential to managers:

1. Leaders do not need to be good at detail.

A manager needs to understand the detail of how tasks will be achieved, who is going to do what and when. They need to be well organized, capable of planning and devising the most efficient systems of working. A leader on the other hand will have their eyes on the horizon, taking a top level, strategic view of things. They do not need to be good at working out the detail and solving operational problems, in fact their vision can be hampered by thinking too much about the minutia.

The leader has to be able to see which direction the organization needs to be travelling in, but does not need to be any good at working out exactly how to get there.

2. Leaders do not have to follow rules and avoid risks.

Part of being a good manager involves the avoidance of undue risks and focussing on establishing and following rules and guidelines. These are the ways in which the required tasks can be achieved in the most efficient way.

A leader does not (and indeed should not) need to be constrained by rules and the need to avoid risk. In fact they are very unlikely to be great leaders if they are. The leader must always be challenging the status quo and be willing to try new and risky things in order to move the company on.

3. Leaders do not need to be good at controlling people

A manager is in an appointed position and exercises control over people through that official status. They must have an understanding of how to ensure those under their control are doing all the things they need to do. A leader, on the other hand, does not have to be in a formal position in order to be recognised as a leader. They do not need to be concerned with how to persuade people to do what they are told, because people choose to follow them voluntarily.

When people follow great leaders, it is not because they know they are subordinates and must do what they are told. The leader inspires loyalty and trust through their own behaviours. They take responsibility and blame where appropriate, they frequently give credit and recognition and they celebrate success. It is these and other actions, along with their passion, enthusiasm and vision that inspire people to follow them.


While leadership and management are both essentials in successful businesses, all the elements of each one does not have to be found in the same person. There are great managers and there are great leaders. Some are fortunate enough to be good at both, but many are not.

Discover The 10 Secrets Of Winning Arguments At Work

man with megaphone
We all like to win an argument, but at work there can be far more than just your personal pride at stake. As a leader, or as part of team, it is important that you are able to manage arguments effectively. You need to ensure that your opinions are fully understood by others, but you also need to understand why someone objects to your point of view.

Even if you know you have a good point, you can still lose an argument for a variety of reasons. These ten tips will help to ensure that you always manage to get your opinions across in an argument:

1. Find out what your opponent is worried about, and address that issue:

Your opponent is arguing because there is something they are afraid of or worried about. This could be the main subject of the argument, but you should also be aware that the argument may just be a symptom of an anxiety about something related to it. Be prepared to delve a bit deeper to identify what it is they are afraid of. When you know what this is, examine the options for how to address their concern.

2. Do not allow your opponent to tell you what your opinion is and do not presume to tell them theirs:

Often in arguments people are arguing against an opinion that they believe (wrongly) is held by the other person. Be careful not to do this yourself and do not allow it to be done to you. Take the time to ask the other person to explain their view and make sure you listen to the response. This can help avoid having arguments about problems that do not actually exist.

3. Do not get dragged into past problems and misdemeanors, but concentrate instead on what can be done differently in future:

A lot of arguments can be traced back to historical grievances or grudges. Dwelling on these things will usually just result in going round in circles, so it is important to acknowledge the past, but then focus attention on what actions you can agree to improve things from now on.

4. Resist the urge to interrupt:

When someone says something that you don’t agree with, or which you think is incorrect, the urge to interrupt can be overwhelming. You must resist it, otherwise your opponent will not be allowed to have their say and feel (understandably) that they are not being listened to. They will then feel frustrated, which could lead to anger. Let them finish, then give your own balanced reasons why you do not agree with what they have said.

5. Don’t get angry – get reasonable:

You have to understand that as soon as you raise your voice you have lost the argument. No matter what the other person says, you should not raise your voice. If they raise theirs, it is even more important that you remain calm, both in voice and body language. What happens all too often is that one person raises their voice a little, and the other person does the same and within seconds it has escalated into a shouting match. When this happens no-one is going to achieve anything. It is up to you to remain calm yourself and encourage the other person to do so by your actions. You could suggest that you both remain calm, but steer clear of phrases like ‘calm down’ or ‘cool it’, which are only likely to make things worse.

6. Give way on unimportant issues:

You do not have to slam your opponent on every single statement they make. Giving way on minor points that do not ultimately matter much can go a long way to making them more amenable over the bigger issues.

7. Aim for movement in the right direction, rather than a hands down win:

It may be unrealistic to expect to convert your opponent entirely to your point of view, so try to get agreement to some movement in the right direction. Once you achieve that, it is much easier to make further progress later.

8. Stick to facts that you can prove and steer clear of personal opinion:

In the heat of an argument it can be tempting to bring in the opinions of others, or things that you have heard from other people. This can be fatal unless you know you can back it up with evidence. Assume such statements will be challenged or denied, and don’t use them if you cannot back them up as fact.

9. Stick to the point and avoid being side-tracked into peripheral issues:

A common pattern in arguments is for them to move into wider areas than the starting point. Sometimes these can still be relevant, but very often they are not, and if you are not careful, most of your time is spent arguing about something else. Spot when this happens and bring it back to the main point. If need be you can say the other issue can be discussed separately.

10. Be respectful and discuss behaviours rather than personalities:

It can be all too easy to slide into personal insult in an argument, which can only end badly. You should always treat the other person with respect and if you need to discuss how they are personally you should talk about what they do and what they say, rather than anything about personality. Behaviour can be changed, but an attack on personality can only ever be taken personally.

Can you think of any other tips for winning arguments?

5 Leadership Lessons From Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse

kicking bishop brennan up the arse
I was thinking recently about that episode of the UK comedy Father Ted where Ted famously has to kick Bishop Brennan up the arse after losing a forfeit. It occurred to me that there were some lessons that business leaders and managers could learn from this story.

1. Always Be Fair And Consistent

The famous kick was the result of a forfeit levied by Ted’s great rival, Father Dick Byrne, after Ted cheated at a game of football. The loser had to carry out a forfeit of the other’s choice and Ted lost because he cheated and was discovered.

The wider lesson here is that any degree of cheating or dishonesty where your colleagues or team are concerned is potentially very damaging and very likely to backfire on you. With something as important as your team you should not take the risk of being found to be anything other than honest and up front. Trust among team members is vital for a team to function well. It can take a long time to build up mutual trust, but it can be lost in seconds if you do something to undermine it.

2. Listen To Everyone’s Ideas Before Making A Decision

When faced with the fact that he would have to kick the bishop, Ted was understandably distraught and clueless about how to proceed. The idea to just kick him and then act as if nothing had happened came from the famously dim witted Father McGuire. The theory being that Ted would never normally dream of doing such a thing, so the Bishop might not believe such an unlikely thing had happened. Ted initially dismissed the suggestion because it came from Dougal, then realised that it might just work.

No matter how good a leader or manager you are, you are not going to come up with all the answers yourself. Teams that function well are effective because they use the combined power and creativity of all members of the team. The leader of that team must ensure that all members are given the opportunity to contribute and consider all ideas and options before making any decisions.

3. Tackle Jobs You Do Not Like As Enthusiastically As The Ones You Enjoy

Father Ted is understandably terrified of what he is about to do and his initial reaction is to jump out of the window rather than go through with it. However, once he resolves to do it, he does not skimp on the job in hand or try to get away with doing it gently or half-heartedly. Knowing the possible outcomes, he still gives the bishop the hardest kick he possibly could.

Very few of us are lucky enough to have jobs where we love every single bit of what we have to do. There are usually a few aspects of our role that are distasteful and which we would rather not do it we had a choice. This can be because we lack experience or knowledge in some areas, or our personalities are not naturally suited to certain roles or perhaps it is just a subject of little interest for us. The lesson from Ted is to not put off the unpleasant jobs and get stuck into them with as much gusto as you give to everything else.

4. Do Not Give Up At The First Obstacle

Anyone who has seen the episode we are discussing will recall that Ted gets away with his plan as the bishop leaves in something of a daze, not registering what has taken place. Some time later, the penny drops, and he races back to have it out with Ted. Despite being terrified of the confrontation, Ted sees the possibility that all was not lost, and continues to persist with his version of events. The Bishop gradually accepts that Ted must be right and that he had indeed imagined it all. So he leaves again without taking his vengeance.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that it is a good idea to stick to your decisions in the face of clear evidence that they are flawed (or that you should go around kicking your boss up the arse). However, leaders need to be robust enough to resist calls to change course when they are confident that their decision is for the best. This can be particularly important when it comes to change management, as many people will naturally resist any form of change and leaders need to be strong enough to keep the organisation on course.

5. When It Comes To Communication The Small Details Matter

Father Ted would have got away with the whole thing if it wasn’t for a miscommunication between him and Father Dougal. Ted asked Dougal to blow up the photograph of him kicking the Bishop to a “ten by ten”. While obvious to Ted that this referred to ten inches, Dougal took it to be ten feet, which is why Bishop Brennan could not miss the evidence.

In my experience, if it is possible for something to be misunderstood, there is a good chance that it will be. When delegating or passing on instructions it is important to not only go into details, but to check that the person you are talking to has actually received the information. The best way to check this is to ask them to repeat back to you what you have agreed.