Analysis: merely occupying a leadership role does not make someone a good leader so what's required to deal with decision making, power and authority?

Society is fascinated with great leaders and history is replete with examples of iconic leaders such as Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Malala Yousafzais. But merely occupying a leadership role does not make someone a good leader. Ineffective leadership can be detrimental as there is both a personal and organisational cost to promoting individuals far beyond their competency level as they flounder with decision making, power and authority.

Indeed, deciding if you have what it takes to be an effective leader can be extremely difficult, especially when there appears to be little clarity on what distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. When it comes to understanding leadership, research highlights that there are more than 65 classification systems used to define the dimensions of leadership and that the number of definitions in existence is evidenced by the number of academics that have attempted to define it.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Reignite, what makes a good leader?

Most explanations share the assumption that leadership involves a process of influencing others to achieve certain goals and cannot occur in isolation from followers. However, many researchers argue that these explanations lack substance when it comes to actually practising leadership in the real world. Theories of leadership abound and come in and out of favour. Typical mundane interview questions such as what type of leader are you? Often box individuals into a style of leadership that is at odds with their personality.

Throughout history, the glamorisation of leadership has resulted in leaders being depicted as saviours and heroes. Such unhelpful typecasting carries significant expectations such as how a leader should behave; what image they should portray and what communication style they should adopt. Stereotypes undermine the essence of effective leadership and confines a leader's autonomy to a bounded set of rules and norms.

Traditionally, leaders who worked every hour of the day and night, were considered beacons of greatness, regardless of their organisational impact. Leadership was a way of behaving and not necessarily a measure of success. Thankfully, work life balance is currently in vogue and supports a less chaotic and a smarter approach to the daily grind of leadership. While occupying a leadership role often comes with more autonomy, prestige, and money, it can also be isolating, lonely, stressful and exhausting work.

For better or for worse, a leader’s attitudes and behaviours can have a significant effect on an employee’s commitment, drive, and capacity to perform. At the very heart of effective leadership is the ability of the leader to connect, encourage, and inspire high performance teamwork. Becoming an effective leader does not happen overnight and requires commitment to an ongoing journey of personal development. Self-reflection, authenticity and kindness are three key concepts that support courageous introspection and committed efforts to behavioural change for greater leadership effectiveness:


Research highlights that the habit of self-reflection can distinguish extraordinary leaders from mediocre ones. Very few organisations allocate time within the working day for their employees to reflect. Typically, the imperative is to drive on and work harder. However, new research validates the value of reflection in assisting people to do a better job. Understanding how we interact and communicate as a leader begins with understanding who we are. Reflection is a powerful process for personal learning, development, and growth. The most effective leaders are those who consciously adapt their behaviour and practices through self-awareness of how it affects others.

The beauty of self-reflection is that it doesn’t need to occur in the boardroom but can quite simply take place while sipping a cup of coffee or taking a leisurely stroll. A commitment to self-reflection begins by setting a mere 15 minutes aside each day to focus on your key responsibilities. Within the context of leadership, these generally include prioritising what needs to be done and subsequently allocating resources and motivating employees to achieve this efficiently and effectively.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Reignite, Jim Gavin talks about leadership on the pitch with the Dublin footballers and off the pitch with the Irish Aviation Authority and the Irish Defence Forces

Strengthening your capacity to lead requires being able to perceive how you perform, think and act and the impact of your behaviour on others. An easy way to begin the process of self-reflection is to identify two or three key questions based on your working day. For example, why a meeting was successful or unsuccessful? How did you communicate with your team? Then select a reflection process that suits you, such as dairying, writing, talking, or thinking. Try to be inclusive of differing perspectives and non-judgementally let your thoughts unfold.


It is nearly impossible to be an effective leader in an organisation whose culture conflicts with your personal values. Central to being authentic within a leadership role is understanding how your values and beliefs, guide, shape and motivate your actions. When an individual’s fundamental core values and beliefs are aligned to the mission and vision of an organisation, a leader’s purpose, decision making and performance is ethically driven. These leaders benefit from increased resilience, confidence, and personal strength and an awareness of the support needs of their team.


We don’t often associate effective leadership with kindness. However, there is a growing acknowledgement that simple acts of kindness can have an extremely positive impact on the development of a nurturing organisational culture. All individuals can face both professional and personal challenges which can cause anxiety. Practicing active kindness and making a conscious effort to listen and understand an employee’s perspective goes a long way to reducing complexity, struggles and stress at work.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ