What makes a good leader - and how to be one

What makes a good leader - and how to be one

Leading by example: Non-Executive Director, WOB mentor and executive leadership consultant, Sheena Wilson is one of the presenters of WOB’s Women in Leadership program. Here she shares her tips on what makes a good leader.
I’m often asked ‘what makes a good leader?’ There are many behavioural aspects of great leadership, which I am sure we have all experienced during our careers and tend to reflect on when thinking about this subject: a sharp strategic mindset; a builder of talent; an effective delegator; a visionary; an influencer; change leadership; results-driven; genuine inclusion; global acumen; a great collaborator – to name a few. 

However, great leaders also deeply understand their organisation’s purpose, and its products, services, markets, strengths, opportunities, risks, challenges, and of course the expectations of all stakeholders. 

The best leaders I have worked with and for, have been those able to effectively ‘marry’ their knowledge, experience, and fields of expertise with exceptionally well-evolved behavioural competencies. They are fully focused on doing everything they do in the best interests of the enterprise or group they are leading . . . it’s not all about them. 

We don’t have to wait until we are at senior levels in organisations to focus on this. Good leaders and influencers are found in my experience at all levels of an organisation, and the earlier we encourage, recognise and reward accomplishment in both the ‘what’ (e.g. goals, assignments, tasks) and the ‘how’ (the ‘approach’ applied to getting things done) in our organisations, the stronger our leadership pipelines become. 

The best piece of advice I’ve been given was from one of my former line managers, who was a terrific mentor, who once said to me when I was in a dilemma over a senior hiring decision for my team: “Always hire people you would be happy to work for one day”. 

That was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received, as it talks to a key accountability of leadership – building for the future. It also keeps you focused on aspirations about your organisation’s culture. I still live by this mantra today, and I have passed it on to many others along the way. It completely changes (for example) the way you look at a CV, conduct an interview, and evaluate what’s really important.

Here are more tips from Sheena on how to become a good leader:

Be Self Aware

Be very self-aware about your career interests and goals, your strengths, and areas for continuing development. The more attuned you are to your career goals, the better context and motivation you will have to work on evolving the right leadership skills (including knowledge-based ones). And listen and learn from every feedback opportunity that presents itself throughout your career.

Learn from experience

Consciously take learnings from each work experience you have, from the very start of your career – particularly with respect to leadership. Enormous value is gained (and freely available) by way of our career experiences and observations of leadership (though I am a huge advocate for reading as much as possible and leveraging formal training where offered).

Role models

Identify leadership role models (past and present), and think through ‘why’ they were/are so good. Is it knowledge, skills, experience, approach – or a combination of all of those? Or something else? Similarly, when have you observed not so good leadership? And what are the ‘why’s’ in that situation? What can you learn from these situations which may help you to continue to focus on developing the leadership skills that matter most?

‘Stretch’ yourself

When you can, don’t shy away from volunteering for major project participation, committees, task forces, M&A teams, crisis management teams, strategic planning initiatives, executive and/or board reporting requirements, external representation, and so on. The knowledge, experience and skills associated with taking on ‘stretch’ assignments are priceless in my experience when it comes to building leadership skills and strategic perspective.

About Sheena

  • Principal, Sheena Wilson Consulting
  • NED & Deputy Chair, Herron Todd White (Australia)
  • Director & Co-Founder Director, Parents on Leave

Sheena is a highly accomplished business leader, talent executive and accredited career coach, with multi-disciplinary experience on a global scale. She is also a professional Non-Executive Director and Foundation Trustee, and Director and Co-Founder of Parents on Leave Pty Ltd. She is a Mentor and Leadership Consultant for Women on Boards Australia; and coaches Board members and executives from multiple sectors in Australia and internationally. Sheena’s international business career included many years working overseas for The Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon), including several years as CEO of BNY Mellon (India), and 5 years as Global Head of Talent Strategy. She is an international award-winning expert in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; and has worked on the ‘people aspects’ of many M&A deals globally. Sheena has lived and worked extensively in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, India, the UK and Europe in a range of sectors: Banking & Finance; Management Consulting; BPO; Engineering; NGOs; Social Enterprises; and Higher Education among others.