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Develop Good Leadership Qualities

by Learning from the Best!

Good leadership qualities can be learned but it’s a good idea to try and learn from the best. But who are the “best” and how do you use ideas from these leading thinkers effectively in your situation?

Our three-part “Gurus” series of articles answers these questions, and includes a tool to help you develop good leadership qualities.

In the first article: Good Leaders Learn From the Best, we asked what makes someone a business guru, who are the “best”, and how can we determine their worth? In this second article “Developing good leadership qualties by learning from the best” we discuss the value of a business guru, and offer six reasons why learning from the best matters.

drucker good leadership qualitiesThe third article in the series, Leadership Exercises: Putting the Best Ideas to Work, includes a tool, the “T Break” model. This is our approach to applying the ideas of management gurus in your organization. It will help you to evaluate those ideas, in the context of your business, and to combine these with the ideas of leaders and managers within your organisation. Hopefully this will both develop good leadership qualities and capitalize on those already in existence!

Firstly though, let’s ask: why bother with the ideas of leading thinkers?

Why Bother with the Ideas of Leading Thinkers?

Managers have enough to cope with on a day-to-day-basis, why should they invest time investigating the ideas of leading thinkers? Especially when they perhaps already suffer from information or advice overload. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of useful ideas out there, rather perhaps that there are too many. In many ways that’s one major problem.

It’s all too easy to miss the nuggets of excellent advice, perhaps already synthesized, summarized or demonstrated. Knowing where to start in the plethora of articles, papers, and books can discourage us from starting at all!

In our first article, we adopted Charles Handy’s definition of a guru, and in part this definition points to why gurus matter.

Let’s remind ourselves of Handy’s argument:

‘Great ideas lie wasted unless someone turns them into a viable activity or a business, through management.’

Perhaps this is reason enough to explain why good leaders should learn from the best! Handy goes further though, explaining that the role of a guru is “to interpret and spread around what seems to be working, helping managers to cope in a world that changes fast.” He suggests that they “often use common sense, but they see the sense before it becomes common and that’s what can give companies and their managers the competitive edge. The insights and methods of the gurus can make a big difference to the way we manage our organisations.”

Some of the benefits of learning from the best are that we can gain an advantage by applying ideas ahead of their time. We can gain insight from the guru’s ability to interpret and clarify ideas. Crucially, great ideas which otherwise may lie dormant can be made actionable and viable through a leading thinker showing how they might work. (You’ll find a wealth of material and insights in our book: Uncommon Leadership which was inspired by Handy’s notion of finidng the sense before it becomes common. And you can download a free chapter )

Good Leadership Qualities – be Analytical and Selective…

Some would argue that gurus only complicate or embellish things, and that we would be better without them. In his book “The Halo Effect… and the Eight Other Business Delusions that Deceive Managers”, Phil Rosenzweig makes some timely caveats. He points out that “for all the self-proclaimed thought leadership, success in business is as elusive as ever.”

He also persuasively argues that busy managers, who are under constant pressure, “naturally search for ready-made answers, for tidy plug-in-and-play solutions that might give them a leg up on their rivals. And the people who write business books – consultants and business school professors and strategy gurus – are happy to oblige.”

At the very least then, caution should be exercised in adopting ideas from thought leaders or gurus. Nonetheless, we think there is much to learn from the work of some business gurus. Not least how to develop good leadership qualities.

Good Leadership Qualities: 6 Reasons Why Learning From the Best Matters

Our new book explores how the best have built competitive advantage through uncommon leadership

Uncommon Leadership: how to build competitive edge by thinking differently

“a tour de force … all integrated into a fascinating intellectual package”

Professor Dennis J. Garritan, Adjunct Professor, Harvard University

Uncommon Leadership

Here are our 6 reasons why learning from the best matters.

  1. Because we learn faster and see further “on the shoulders of giants” Learning from the best enables faster learning, and can help prevent mistakes from being made or repeated. Build on what has gone before. Find out more about the ideas which have helped develop successful organizations. Find out where the debate is about the future of management and business. Be informed.
  2. Because some knowledge has stood the test of time Ask yourself: what ideas have stood the test of time? Where are the older ideas which are still valid but perhaps not often applied? The truisms, basics or fundamentals? How well have we learned from the past, or does the past repeat itself?
  3. Because some knowledge has a shelf life. Conversely, just because it is old, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appropriate. What evidence is there that the idea works? In what situations did it work? Why would it work in your organisation? How would it work for you? Can you pilot and test ideas? Where else has it worked, and why (pay careful attention to why an idea has worked)? How do you distinguish fad from fact?
  4. Because there is a wealth of knowledge as yet untapped amongst your friends, colleagues and in your organization Find the best from around you ( the good leadership qualities in others), learn from them, ask questions, and seek to understand. Find those who think, challenge and lead in their areas of expertise – learn from them. Find the managers, who best support and encourage learning, learn from them also.
  5. Because what we need to lead and manage is changing What is managed, who is managed, how we manage, are all changing. Knowledge workers know more than their managers about their activities. They manage their own work. Do managers supervise people or do they manage value for the organisation? Investigate the boundaries. What is changing about management? How will you need to adapt?
  6. Because learning is more about setting a course than taking one. What have you put in place to encourage yourself to continually learn? Be inquisitive; learn as much as you can about your work, and related areas. Plan to find out more. Devleoping good leadership qualities will require you to read often and in a disciplined manner.

Good Leadership Qualities: Fresh Ideas, Insight and Innovation

To develop good leadership qualities it’s therefore critical to build continuous learning into our own routine and into the fabric of our organizations. To paraphrase Peter Drucker: its difficult to distinguish the important from the time wasting and the potentially effective from the frustrating. On your own there is never enough time to do this, and if there was, finding the valuable ideas would probably still take too long anyway! This is where it helps to recognize leading thinkers, and the value they can bring.

Learning from leading thinkers can help bring fresh ideas, insight and innovation to our practice. Our start point doesn’t have to be ground zero. Often it’s far better to build on the work of leading thinkers, either external or internal to our organizations. However this should not be done in an uncritical manner. What worked in one context may not necessarily work in another.

Crucially also, leaders needs to develop good leadership qualities not just in themselves but in others. As Peter Senge has said:

“In a learning organisation, leaders are designers, stewards, and teachers. They are responsible for building organisations where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models – that is, they are responsible for learning.”

If you only have one leadership skill development opportunity? Perhaps it should be developing the skill to learn from the best and then share that learning.

For Noel Tichy, professor at the University of Michigan Business School,“teaching is at the heart of leading….Simply put if you aren’t teaching you aren’t leading.”

Developing good leadership qualities by learning from the best is a valuable and sensible approach. But how do you learn from the best?

That’s the subject of our next article: Leadership exercises: putting the best ideas to work.

Developing Good Leadership Qualities

We have produced a comprehensive set of resources to help leaders keep themselves up to date and develop good leadership qualities.

You’ll find our affordable, comprehensive resources can make a real difference for you and the people you lead. And best of all, you can get the complete set for half price!


What is leadership - complete Leadership e-guides for half price!

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