Leadership means different things to different people and there are lots of different leadership styles. With this in mind Beverley Corcoran MBCS, British Airways IT Learning & Development Manager, considers how we define, develop and grow our leadership skills?

Some common myths about leadership are that it is all about seniority, hierarchy or just managing well - not true! Leadership can be people-project-thought-based or technical in nature, or be as simple as leading by example. Leadership is therefore possible at all levels of the organisation and at any stage of your career.

A good starting point when defining and developing the DNA of your leadership skills is to create a vision for your career, along with a draft personal development strategy on how to achieve it. ‘Easier said than done right?’ Well, if it was that easy, we would all have one.

At the outset it might be helpful to consider the following aspects of leadership to help shape your thinking:

  • Setting direction through a compelling and inspiring vision.
  • Motivating and inspiring others to engage with the vision.
  • Coaching and building an effective team to achieve the vision.

So what does all this mean for you as an individual? The following top five hints and tips are some ideas aimed at helping you to formulate, or enhance your leadership DNA:

Set clear direction

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.’ - Albert Einstein

What do you aspire towards? Define your personal vision; it need not be set in stone. Think about your values, beliefs and aspirations and ensure your vision lines up. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever know if you get there? How can others follow you if the path is unclear?

So how does this translate to the workplace?

  • Set the scene. Be clear on accountabilities and what you expect from others.
  • Think big, be transformational. Inspire others to follow you. Peter Drucker once said ‘The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.’
  • Most importantly of all, listen to others, harness their skills and expertise to help shape your thinking.

Motivate others

‘Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it’. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Define your personal brand. How do you want to be perceived and remembered? What leaders inspire you? How will your actions generate the necessary momentum to drive things forward?

So how does this translate to the workplace?

  • Be an energy giver - drive things forward with a ‘can-do’ attitude, inspiring others around you. Charisma helps drive momentum.
  • Demonstrate resilience and perseverance when the going gets tough. As Nelson Mandela once said: ‘It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.’
  • Be authentic - show the real you and live your values and beliefs. Role model the behaviours you believe in and expect from others. Treat others with respect and as you would wish to be treated. Ensure this is mirrored in your body language.
  • Communicate openly and honestly and truly listen to those around you. Don’t dismiss their opinions, interrupt them or pay lip service to their ideas - focus on building trust.
  • What motivates you? Teams are real people with real drivers. Understand what is important to those around you - Edgar Schein’s ‘Career Anchors’1 might provide a helpful insight in this regard.
  • Never underestimate the power of recognition, which is not just monetary. Often a simple ‘thank you’ delivered with genuine intent goes a long way.
  • How are you perceived? Think retention. There is a strong correlation between individuals leaving their role and the manager or leader that they work for.

Trust and empower

‘As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.’ - Bill Gates

Be forward-looking and define what competencies you need to succeed. What do you need from others around you? How do you bridge any gaps?

So how does this translate to the workplace?

  • Embrace accountability, and don’t blame others when things don’t go according to plan.
  • Learn from your mistakes and accept it is ok to fail because this enables learning. Build a culture around you where this becomes the norm.
  • Consider your strengths and don’t focus on the negatives or on correcting perceived weaknesses. Use this approach to provide feedback to those around you.
  • Do you have autonomy and flexibility? Do you allow this in others?
  • Manage your performance and that of others with honesty and integrity. Don’t dodge difficult conversations.

Build effective networks

‘If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other persons point of view and see things from his angle, as well as your own’ - Henry Ford

You have a vision of the future, you know what you want to do and you have a motivated team behind you - how do you drive through what you need to? How do you lay the foundations for your future plans? Answer: by targeting key influencers and bringing them along with you.

So how does this translate to the workplace?

  • Identify the relevant key influencers - both now and with an eye to the future.
  • Invest time in building the relationships. Grow and leverage your personal network.
  • Consider a mentoring relationship - you never know where this could lead in the future.

Seek out lifelong learning opportunities

‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’ - Benjamin Franklin

Being visionary is not a snapshot in time - visions evolve and grow. What learning have you undertaken, or nurtured, to ensure continual improvement and innovation?

So how does this translate to the workplace?

  • Actively seek feedback to further develop your personal brand and competencies. Give constructive feedback to others to coach and develop those around you.
  • Seek out valuable experiences or broader responsibilities that push you outside of your comfort zone. Embrace these as opportunities. Create learning opportunities for others.
  • Embed your learning - practice! Allow others the time to do the same.
  • Consider coaching or mentoring, both for yourself and for others around you. Nurture talent and leadership skills. Give back.

To summarise leadership in the words of John Quincy Adams:

‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader’.


  • 1 Career Anchors Self-Assessment Third Edition, Edgar H. Schien, Pfeiffer 2006