14 February 2017

When you’re at the helm of a business or team and you’re getting results, it’s easy to think you’re a great leader. It’s easy to motivate people and think you are doing a good job in doing so but there’s a quality that you will find every great leader has, that many others forget.

Jim Collins – author of Good to Great and researcher into the biggest global brands – calls it Level 5 leadership. Examples include Sir Alex Ferguson. Collins’ Level 5 leader is always quite shy and introverted; like the orchestra conductor with his back to the crowd rather than the lead violinist, the person at the back of the room, rather than centre stage.

A huge part of this level of leadership comes from the ability to listen. I remember speaking with Tom Bloxham about Richard Branson and he told me that Branson is the greatest listener he’s ever met. I know Tom Bloxham was teaching me a lesson there and I know I had some way to go to learn that skill at the time.

Tom Bloxham also taught me that we are given two ears and one mouth and should use them in that ratio! That’s a tip that has stuck in my mind for many years and one I often share with the management team here at UKFast.

Branson is an incredible listener.

In the privileged moments that I have spent with him, often on Necker Island, whenever I have asked him what he would do in my position, the first thing he’ll do is ask a myriad of questions! It’s very clever and something to learn from because what he is waiting to form an opinion until he is fully informed. It is an extraordinary talent and something that I know many other business leaders replicate.

I would say that listening is the single biggest trait we have as a leader. It’s what makes the great stand out from the good.

I see so many leaders who put themselves into the limelight, they are always talking, but how much listening has happened behind the scenes? Ultimately a leader is not there to be the centre of attention; a leader has to make sure everyone has a job tomorrow and the only way to do that is to learn about the team. There’s a time to stand on the table and rally the troops and get ready for battle but those times are few and far between.

Which leaders inspire you?

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