Leaders need to know their strengths and weaknesses

We can all look back and think of people who have had a positive impact on our lives. It may be a relative, a teacher, a mentor or perhaps a great boss who inspired us to achieve more than we ever thought we could. They took an interest in us, made us feel special and gave us the confidence to believe that the impossible was possible.

Gordoon Beattie is chairman of Beattie Communications in the U.K., Beattie Tartan in North America, international student recruitment consultancy 11tenGroup and the Only boutiques, whose brands include Only Marketing, Only Retail, Only Travel and Only Health.

I well remember my uncle who gave me the gift of self-assurance, my teacher who encouraged me to come out tops in chemistry and my gym master who kept telling me to dig deep. I did, and won a clutch of 100-meter gold medals. His voice still echoes in my head to this very day and I think that’s the stamp of a great leader.

Great leaders are just great people. We never forget the lessons they taught us. We may not remember their exact words but we can still remember how they made us feel. It’s the feeling that never goes away, no matter how long we live or how much we achieve.

We can still touch our memories, like it was yesterday.

As the founder and chairman of a group of PR and marketing consultancies, I’ve had the privilege of working with many effective leaders in the world of business. They were, and many still are, my clients. I’ve got to know them intimately. I’ve seen them under enormous pressure and I’ve shared in the celebrations of their towering success.

I’ve rubbed shoulders with people like Lord John Browne of BP, Sir Stuart Rose of M&S, Sir Tom Farmer of Kwik-Fit, Sir Brian Souter of Stagecoach, Archie Bethel of Babcock International, Doug and Dame Mary Perkins of Specsavers and many others.

So what have I learned?

First and foremost – great leaders are nice people. They’re never boastful, conceited, petty or haughty. They use words like fortunate, blessed and lucky.

Poor leaders, on the other hand, need to brag about what they’ve achieved. They have a sense of entitlement, whereas great leaders have a sense of gratitude.

Great leaders also have an inner confidence, a feeling of self-assurance that they pass on to everyone around them. They make their people feel safe, safe enough to make mistakes. When they walk into a room, their presence lifts heads, shoulders and spirits. In other words, they are inspirational. Some, but not all, are peacocks. Many of the best leaders I know are shy, retiring and positively humble.

It all starts with vision

They give center stage to others and support from the wings. They don’t grab the glory, they deflect the applause to others but they take the brickbats. They accept that taking the blame is part of the job. If their team fails – they, as the leader, called it wrong. They chose the wrong strategy or they played their people in the wrong positions.

Great leaders know that if you’re going to build a great company, it all starts with a vision of what you’re going to achieve. You then need a team to achieve it. That means getting the wrong people off the team, the right people in the team and playing them in the right positions.

It takes guts to take out the wrong people and it requires charisma to get the right people into the team. It takes vision to swap people around so that everyone plays to their strengths and is free to focus on continual improvement.

With the right team in place, effective leaders turn their attention to building a powerful culture that encourages everyone to come together as a team. Culture is what distinguishes great companies from good businesses.

In my book, it’s much better to be a good manager than a hopeless leader. Great companies need gifted leaders AND talented managers.

In companies with a great culture, winning teams support each other. When someone has an off day, the rest of the team rallies round and carries them until they are back at the top of their game.

The creation of a potent culture comes from the top and that means the leader and the leadership team have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Influential bosses lead by example. There’s no point in expecting the team to burn the midnight oil if the boss goes home at five. The best leaders put in more hours than anyone else.

Having said that, they are also good at delegating. They know it’s the best way to develop the next generation of leaders. 

Hire slow – get the best fit

At Beattie Communications Group, we have a powerful culture and we’re blatant about promoting it – especially to talented individuals who would like to work with us. We ask those who are coming for interviews to read our Culture Handbook from start to finish.

It’s over 100 slides long, but understanding our culture helps to weed out those who admire our values from those who are uncomfortable with them – and that’s a win-win for all parties.

It reduces the number of times we have to part company with people who don’t fit in and, of course, it helps ensure we hire the best people possible and the right people for us. Hire slow and fire fast is a tenet we live by.

The right people will make a poor business plan work, the wrong people will fail in the implementation of the very best corporate strategy. Great people deliver great outcomes. It’s as simple as that.

We know we’ve hired the right people when they stay around. In an industry where talent flits from job to job, I’m proud of the fact that over 20% of our people have been with us for 10 years or more. Indeed, our CEO, Laurna Woods, has been with us for 23 years. She started at the bottom and rose all the way to the top. She’s a great leader and an able manager. What’s more, she inspires others to follow in her energetic footsteps. I suppose that’s what leadership is all about – inspiring others to be all that they can be.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

As a leader you’ve got to know your strengths and weaknesses, and that brings me to my final point - ALL leaders are flawed. No leader is perfect.

Even Winston Churchill had his faults. Indeed, some would say he had more defects than most.

So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t quite measure up to the perfect you.

It’s in our striving to become better than we are that everyone around us becomes better than they are.


Published: October 2019

Image: Nina Tiefenbach for Delivered.