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Machiavelli vs The Dalai Lama: What Makes the Perfect Leader? by Russell Ward

Russell Ward is CEO of Silent Edge – a specialist in sales training and motivation asks What Makes the Perfect Leader?

It’s one of the oldest, most contentious questions around: what does it take to be the perfect leader?

There are high-profile advocates for each side of the debate. In The Prince, Machiavelli suggested that effective leaders maintain strict control by whatever means necessary; this includes brutality and force. Conversely, the Dali Lama propounds the idea of being an “interconnected leader”, who’s outwardly-focused approach draws the best out of others.

The truth is that there is no single, absolute way to lead. Leadership requires a number of different qualities and, most importantly, the ability to adapt. Leadership is not a static construct. You have to evolve with the needs of your team. Sometimes they’ll need gentleness and compassion, and other times they probably will need a ‘kick in the butt’. A successful manager will know when to use each.

Cisco Systems estimate that poor management costs firms the equivalent of over £7.5 million annually. This is because management are the single most important factor in driving their salespeople to perform. Whether it be through instruction, discipline or inspiration, managers need to offer their teams exactly what they need to reach their full potential. What it is the team needs will vary for different circumstances. Where one team needs to learn how to close business, another may need to learn to behave respectfully, or to have greater direction and self-belief.

By identifying what it is that their individual salespeople need, managers are empowered to address these capability gaps and lead their teams towards greater success. Operating in a coaching role – and creating a coaching culture in which salespeople are continually motivated to improve – allows managers and their teams to achieve long-term, sustained uplift in performance.

Good managers nurture their staff. Great managers grow with their team. That’s why truly effective leaders need to continually evolve to address the changing needs of their salespeople. Effective leadership is vital to training and development; because improvement is an ongoing, challenging process in which salespeople depend on their managers to provide guidance and support.

Ultimately, it comes down to what we mean by leadership. When you’re in a position of power it’s perhaps not all that difficult to have people do exactly what you want. What can be more challenging is simply to listen, to compromise, to hold oneself accountable and to provide a foundation for support.

To identify the leader in an organisation one ought not look to the most outspoken, the boisterous or the bossy; but to the individual who is attentive to the specific needs of others; the manager that can be relied upon to support and challenge their team; the person who quietly and deliberately holds things together.


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