Authored Article: What Makes A Good Leader?


As leadership conference week starts at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon Fraser shares his advice an leadership skills


Published on 12 May 2014


by Sir Simon Fraser

(WireNews+Co)

London, England

Leadership is on my mind this week as I prepare to host our annual FCO Leadership Conference, which all our Ambassadors and senior leaders in London attend.

We can all learn about and practise leadership skills at all levels. And many of them are relevant to other non-work areas of our lives.

Here are 11 things I think about leadership. I hope you find them useful and I welcome comments.

  1. There are different styles of leadership and they can (nearly) all be good. The important thing is to be yourself: know your own personality so that you can be authentic in the way you engage with other people and the way you use your authority. Understand how you as an individual can best have positive impact and influence with others and try to understand how they perceive you. Always be clear in communicating your values, what you care about and what you stand for – through your behaviour as well as your words.

  2. If you want to be a leader you have to be prepared to lead. It does require self-confidence. You have to be able to judge when to listen, when to think and when to decide. When you make decisions you need to stick with them through adversity if you are sure they are right, and to see them through. People like continuity. If at some point you conclude that you were wrong, you need to be big enough to change and to explain why. The best solution is to make the right decisions! It is more important to make good decisions than fast decisions.

  3. But you can only lead if other people are prepared to follow. That means you have to win and retain their respect, not just for your position but for you as a person, for your experience, skills and competence. A leader has to have a strong rapport with, and understanding of, the organisation and the people he or she is leading: what they want, and what they will accept if they can’t have what they want. Emotional intelligence and intuition are important in forming these links.

  4. In leadership, people and relationships are more important than tasks. Tasks do matter, but the main role of a good leader is to motivate and inspire other people to do the tasks well. You need to know how to delegate and be the leader of other leaders. The leader is the conductor of the orchestra, not the first violin. But you also need to know when to step in and take responsibility. Don’t be afraid to say ‘stop’ or ‘no’ if you think things are going wrong. And don’t let other people push you into a decision which you are not comfortable with.

  5. You have to set a vision. That requires a clear sense of purpose, a clear sense of direction and a clear picture of the destination. You need to be able to explain in terms that people understand and support what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, how you will go about it and how everyone will know when you get there. That is what I have been trying to do with Diplomatic Excellence.

  6. Good leaders are good communicators. You have to do it all the time. It means thinking about what other people know and how they are experiencing what you are doing, especially change. It’s important to communicate in a way other people can relate to and engage with. And you have to make it easy for people to remember what you are saying: make it simple, clear and coherent.

  7. Once you’ve set the vision and engaged other people through communication, you need to lead the delivery. That’s where a clear understanding of the end goal, and metrics and evaluation to demonstrate outcomes, are important. It’s a good idea to stay ahead of the delivery curve, setting interim goals along the way which are stretching but attainable. Much of what I’ve just described in the last three points is encapsulated by Steve Radcliffe in the model he discussed at the Leadership Conference last year: future, engage, deliver.

  8. It’s important to manage your energy. Leaders are constantly on display and under scrutiny. You need to have energy in reserve so that you can manage your mood and the image you project, and have something in the tank when crises happen (as they inevitably will). Learn to recognise when you are tired or stressed, and how that makes you behave. Watch out for the signs. Learn also to recognise where your positive energy comes from and what takes it away.

  9. A good leader will put a lot of effort into building the right team around him or her. You need people you trust, who are on your side, who challenge and are honest with you and whose judgement you respect. You need to be able to depend on their support when the going gets tough. Being a leader can feel lonely and exposed: so you need to have your support systems in place to help you through the harder times.

  10. Trust your instinct. If it doesn’t feel right, the chances are it isn’t right. I’m a great believer in the power of the subconscious, given time, to steer us to the right answers. That’s why I often prefer to have a couple of discussions before taking a difficult decision, even if that slows down the process. It helps give me certainty about what I think, and it helps the wider leadership group understand each other’s point of view and build consensus. The end result is a better decision with better buy-in.

  11. Finally, accept that we all make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. When you do, try to learn the lessons, but don’t be destabilised. Someone told me once: “don’t chew the cud”. Keep moving forward, be resilient, remember that things will get better. And smile.

Further Information

Follow Simon Fraser on twitter @SimonFraserFCO

Find out more about Simon Fraser


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Posted 2014-05-12 17:30:00