HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore

Don’t you just wish your boss could read this?

Many bosses find themselves in leadership positions without ever having consciously made the choice to become a leader, let alone a great leader.

The ‘Peter Principle’ (formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book ‘The Peter Principle’) states that in modern organizations, most bosses rise to the level of their least competence, like the specialist (e.g. accountant, engineer, lawyer etc.) who is so good at their craft that they get promoted to a management position in 'charge of people' without having mastered any real leadership skills. And then they bomb. It's not their fault; they were promoted into the position with little or no training or mentoring...its sink or swim.

In some cases we came across, well intentioned promises of leadership development, coaching or mentoring were made to the leader when they were appointed, only to fall by the wayside because more pressing business matters crowded out the hours in the new leader's day.

If you are in this position, or you know someone who is, (your boss?) helpful advice is available. Just read on.

Like a captain of a sporting team or a general of an army, leaders need to innovate, inspire, excite or provide a clear vision to others. They hold and believe in a vision and just as importantly, have the self-belief and conviction to communicate it to others. Furthermore leaders do not have definitive characteristics. Some inspire and organise, whereas others are strategic or tactical, spot opportunities or protect against disaster.

Leadership is a journey of discovery. It is the expression of a person at his or her best whose aim is to transform something for the better and to develop this potential in others. It is not a solitary pursuit but one that harnesses the energy of those around you.

A manager can implement processes, monitor performance, set business goals and objectives and generally take care of the day-to-day needs of their staff. However achieving authentic leadership takes more than textbook management skills.

We are firm believers of the fact that with relevant professional development support including coaching and mentoring, those with leadership potential can be developed into outstanding leaders.

No one can argue that a great leader can boost an organization’s growth and performance in much the same way a poor leader can run one into the ground. But what makes a leader effective or ineffective is a more nebulous concept to pin down.

What makes a good leader?
The leadership qualities that are required to make a good leader can vary in different companies, teams and situations.

According to Jim Kouzes, author of the best-seller The Leadership Challenge, the qualities that make an effective leader have two distinct perspectives: what followers look for and what research from the past few decades has shown. There are four things consistently that we have found that people most look for in a leader:

1) First, people want a leader who’s honest, trustworthy and has integrity.

2) Second, they want someone who is forward-looking, who has a vision of the future, foresight and thinks about the long term.

3) Third, people want a leader who is competent, has expertise, knows what they’re doing, and

4) Fourth, leader who is inspiring, dynamic, energetic, optimistic and positive about the future.

Self-awareness is perhaps one of the most difficult leadership skills to learn and yet it is the one that often has the most impact. As leaders rise through the ranks of an organisation, their profile becomes more visible to employees and their increased power can have subtle and direct ramifications.

Aside from internal reflection, aspiring leaders also need to focus outwardly. One of the best ways to do this is to observe leaders within your organization who have traits you would like to model and who have nurtured their careers to achieve the success you desire. In observing these people, list three behaviors or things they have done which you admire, three ways you describe their leadership style and three things your company values in a leader. In compiling this list, speak with others in your company to get an understanding of the qualities they are looking for in leaders. Armed with this list, you can then compare it with your assessment of yourself to identify areas for development.

With the knowledge of what you need to develop, the next step is to formulate a plan to help you get there.

In developing leaders, organisations are increasingly addressing hard skills like writing sales plans along with soft skills such as managing people. Blended learning solutions that combine personal assessment, skill-building and coaching to generate a new solution are the way of the future.

Basic management skills of process, control and communication are still needed and will probably continue to be taught in the traditional way, in classrooms or through mentoring. But in order for managers to become outstanding leaders, there needs to be a different and more scientific approach to management development, one that shows measurable results and ultimately has a positive impact on the bottom line.

Effective Leadership Styles
Some people have one style of leadership, which is fine if they can find a situation that requires that style of leadership.

Flexible leadership, however, involves being able to adapt your leadership style according to the situation and the state of the team - e.g.: taking charge when a team is forming but playing the role of coach when a team is managing itself well.

Also, the need to change one's leadership style according to the circumstances is one of the fundamental principles underlying popular models such as Situational Leadership (develop by Blanchard and Hersey in the late 1960s). And there are many other examples that go much further back, to biblical times and other periods of recorded history.

Since leaders lead people, the style with which you do it is important. It must truly represent you and must fit with the situation, the results you wish to achieve and the people you hope will follow your lead. In truth having a particular style is not as essential to being a leader as having a vision of what could exist, being committed to the vision, bringing great energy to realizing that vision and having people to support you.

Having said that, the autocratic style of leadership is the least successful of all. It would be a good idea to develop a more involving style that gives you the benefit of exchange with and commitment from the people around you. This approach is especially useful to people within positions like yours who, by definition, can't tell others what to do (very often) and get away with it. If you have not learned the skills of working cooperatively with others in ways that allow them to see you as a leader, then learn those skills. If you find yourself dictating direction to people who regularly resist your well-intentioned efforts, then learn more participatory skills. When you have the skills, you can call on them. Without them, you are stuck with doing what you have done in the past, and you will get similar results.


For Singapore’s budding leaders to compete with the world’s best, senior managers need to embrace the latest techniques of human leadership development. The price of not doing so will create plenty of managers, but very few leaders.

Finally, remember: Leadership is a journey, not something that can be learned on a five-day training course. It requires time and reflection.

Prof Sattar Bawany, Honorary Academic Advisor of IPMA and Adjunct Professor of Strategy of PGSM. He is also the Co-Chair of Human Capital Committee of American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham Singapore). He can be contacted at and Website:

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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