05 March 2018 / 9:32 am

Leading from the front

Leadership is about getting the best out of people. Carole Peterson, a People Consultant at Brannigans, says there are heaps of management theories and strategies about running a successful business, but one of the most important aspects focuses on how to engage with and motivate your people.


What are the qualities that make for a good leader?

To be an effective leader you do need to have a personality that is aligned to leading people.  Characteristics such as empathy, enthusiasm, confidence, values, and strong communication skills are some of the “soft” traits that are part of the natural personality of leaders. Some people have these traits in abundance and others need help to bring them out.

You also need to have something inspirational about you that makes people want to follow you. The organisation needs to have a clear vision and purpose and it is the leader’s role to commit, communicate and demonstrate the agreed direction of the company.  Coupled with strong personal values, you need to walk the talk, treat others fairly and have a degree of expertise in your given area – without needing to be a guru.

We hear a lot about the culture within an organisation and it is the leader who drives the culture.  Whatever behaviour they demonstrate will be reflected in the culture within the business.

Is there such a thing as a natural leader?

I think there are natural leaders, as we clearly saw during the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes.  The natural leaders often took charge of the workplace and, in many cases, they were the true heroes.  These people were not always the line managers.

How can you become a leader?

It’s about understanding yourself in detail, understand your strengths and how to use those to develop effective relationships and lead others.  It’s about being authentic.  What is your natural personality and what motivates and engages you at work?  You need to explore things such as your personal values and be able to identify your strengths.

Is emotional intelligence over rated?

No, it’s not over-rated.  Some of the best leaders I have seen are very aware of themselves, what they say and do, and how others perceive them.  I always advise recruiting managers to place importance on attitude and culture fit when recruiting leaders.  While technical skills and experience are important, some parts of these skills can be learned.  I believe EQ is really a measure of leadership ability – if a person knows himself/herself and how they are viewed by others, is able to control their own emotions and gets the best out of people, he/she will be a great leader.

Are there instances when people think they’re good leaders but their team gives them the opposite feedback?

Yes.  I think this happens when a leader hasn’t taken the time to understand themselves, their natural personality and what motivates and engages them.  Sometimes when you take a person through this process, they understand why they didn’t enjoy parts of leadership (or their team feeds back they are not strong).  One person I worked with came to the conclusion (following feedback) that leadership was not for him. This man was employed in a technical role involving figures and analysis.  He successfully applied for a people management role in charge of 50 cleaners.  Over time there were many clues that he was not enjoying managing people.  He used to actively avoid having conversations and spent a lot of time analysing the performance and planning aspects of his role.  He never seemed “happy” and his attitude towards people was very negative.  While he was previously seen as strong in the old role, he was not excelling in the new role which created a difficult situation for all.  Following an intervention, that once again looked at his personality and what motivated and engaged him most at work, he could see why he was not suited to leading teams.  The business saw value in retaining his skills and so he moved roles into a financial support role and once again was a successful valued member of the team.

How can you improve your leadership skills?

That’s a big question.  There’s no magic pill to do this.  Sometimes a leadership course like “situational leadership” or “four quadrant leadership” can give a person the point of reference and some rules to follow around leading others but it does depend on the individual.  I still think you then overlay any skills learned with your natural personality and need to play to your strengths and above all else be yourself!


  • Carole Peterson is a consultant at HR specialist Brannigans. She has a special interest in leadership, and workplace health and safety. Carole.peterson@brannigans.co.nz