How ‘leadership tips’ can easily make you more confused. Part 1.

Here’s a quick test. When you get up tomorrow go into the bathroom and check if you have become Richard Branson, Jack Welch or Elon Musk … or however you admire as a business leader. If that didn’t happen it means you are still you. Bugger.


“Yes, I mean you.”

Recently joined Twitter and have jumped into the #leadership space and in a few short weeks have ended up with 1500 Followers and counting. My Twitter feed throws up countless #leader #leadership #leadershipcoaching related Tweets and for a week I tracked the content.

In short, there are over 419 things a leader NEEDS to know, do, be in order to be a better #leader. That was this week.

Qualities and Traits
Essentially, they are talking about developing qualities and traits. I am very interested in the pedigree of ideas. For example, the pursuit of solid principle-based leadership is not new. When I was studying for my Industrial Organisational Psychology degree I studied behaviour modification and the first books on becoming a better person have their origins in the Age of Enlightenment (1685-1815).

Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations (1776) but he also wrote an amazing treatise on betterment called The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1790) which is at first a difficult clunky read but once you get into it is a real page turner. Isaac Watts wrote a blistering treatise on human qualities called The Improvement of the Mind (1821) but ‘the’ book to own was Samuel Smiles blockbuster, Self Help (1859) (from which we get self-help books).

Self Help was as popular as the Bible (though Smiles was sensible enough to not say he was more popular than John Lennon who was still 90 years away) and every home had the Bible and Self Help. It is a brilliant read even today and is especially relevant given our Brexit climate. Smiles tells you exactly what made the UK ‘great’. And will continue to do so. It’s our pedigree.

On the other side of the pond Benjamin Franklin was writing Poor Richard’s Almanack from which we get Franklin’s 12 qualities. At the heart of these books is the idea that leaders have qualities. Franklin is famous for working on 12 qualities and it is no surprise that  Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) reprised 12 or so qualities.

The problem is they were written in the Age of No Distractions where leaders were more reflective. And the assumption is that if you can just master THE 12 qualities you will be a much better leader.

And this assumption remains salient. We still have Colin Powell’s 13 keys and Iacocca’s 9 Cs etc.

But here’s what’s wrong.

Firstly, we are assuming that admirable qualities will carry the day under pressure.

I began coaching in the high end, life and limb sectors (medicine, aviation, military, mining etc) where when you make a mistake someone gets injured or dies. Leaders in these situations don’t have time to rush back to their Jack Welch or Richard Branson books to see what Jack or Richard would do.

Which one of Lee Iaccocoa’s nine Cs do I use in this situation.

At the heart of it you are trying to be like someone else. Someone you’re not. But here’s the thing if I take the 419 leadership tips I got from Twitter this week they segment down into five categories – five things you can DO rather than BE.

And that’s the topic of my next blog.


Andrew Priestley is an award winning business leadership coach, speaker and bestselling author based in London, UK . He is the creator of the Business Leadership Profile used with established 6, 7 and 8 figure clients worldwide.

Key words: leadership, business coaching, leadership development, history of leadership





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