How much does a great leader at work influence your career?


Being an avid user of LinkedIn, I often see posts praising leaders in their workplace and its made me think about what difference having a strong leader makes to your career, so in typical fashion – I wrote a blog about it!

Just like before I write all my posts, I always spend a bit of time doing some research (OK, maybe not all my posts, but most). I wanted to understand a bit of the history of being a great leader, and how it has evolved into the modern world. You’ll notice I use the word leader and not manager, boss, head of department, CTO, CIO etc, because the way I see it, whether you’re leading 1 person, or 100,000 people, the same rules apply.

I did a quick google for ‘best leaders’ and the first hit was this website. It was very interesting to see some names of people who people often associate with tyranny, oppression and fascism in there, and I’m sure the modern-day worker wouldn’t associate a lot of these people with leadership at all. Moving forward into the current times, the UK is led by Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister. Political opinions aside, the jury is truely out on his leadership credentials. What I’m trying to get at is that people associate the word leader with lots of different roles, politically, in their worklife, or even their local football team, but they are all relevant.

I know a lot of you are probably shouting at your monitor “Sam, what the heck does Ghandi have to do with Dave at work?”. My answer is simple, they both will have a profound influence on your life, your work life, your family’s lives and your friends’ lives. If you have a rather lacklustre leader at work, it affects far more than just your work life, it rubs off on everything. Why? Because a majority of us work 40hr weeks, 47 weeks of the year – round about 1/5 of your life.

Nice stock photo of Gandhi himself

I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great colleagues and leaders during my work career and learnt a lot from each of them. Whether that be their social interactions with colleagues, partners and suppliers, their profressionalism, or their expertise. But what does a strong leader do for your career and life in general?

Pat Gelsinger is the CEO of VMware, and has been voted the best CEO on Glassdoor in 2019, but this isn’t the first or second time he’s held this award – its the third. Those who regularly read my blogs know I am quite a fan of VMware, and although I like their products, its the culture they have bred that is so admirable, and that culture comes from the very top, downwards. Many businesses have struggled over the past few months and some are still feeling the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, no doubt resulting in a lot of CEOs and other leaders under heavy pressure from shareholders, customers, or internally from their employees. So how does a top CEO respond to pressure like this? Simple. Encourages his employees to use give to charity and gives his employees additional days off to spend with their family. Publically support those charities in need, whilst supporting your employees at home, to allow them to continue to be motivated in work.

I have no doubt that Pat has a high expectation of output from all VMware employees, but understanding that the work-life balance, especially during unprescedented times, is what will drive that extra, 5-10% from all of his colleagues. And you only need to see the regularity of positive thanks on the likes of Twitter, to see how highly respected he is. You don’t need to be Pat Gelsinger, or a CEO of a multi-billion turnover business though to positively affect people’s lives and careers though.

He’s not the only one though, in fact the New York Times recently wrote an article on how female leaders have responded far stronger during the pandemic, referencing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern amongst other powerful female political leaders. The takeaway from this isnt that female politicians are superior to male, but to look at the characteristics that great leaders share. Here are a few I’ve identified

Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand Prime Minister
  • Humility:
    • Listen to other people opinions and respect them. Irrelevant of their background and expertise, you’ll learn something.
    • A great recent example of this is a few of President Trumps earlier rallies during early covid19, passing blame to China and ignoring warning signs from experts (WHO). Look at the infection and death rate in the USA of the seriousness of a lack of humility.
  • Decisiveness
    • People expect leaders to make correct, prompt, decisions.
    • Referencing covid19 again, those countries (the UK is a great example), where quicker decision making would have, and still can save lives. The same is true in business, albeit less serious – listen to the experts, and make a call.
  • Communicator
    • Learn to communicate with EVERYONE
    • I’ve seen plenty of ‘leaders’ over my time who don’t spend the time to speak to their colleagues who may be lower in the pecking order so to speak.

Looking back at my original question whether a good leader affects your life, I’d say it absolutely does. Without being too philosophical (thank god for spellcheck!), you should try and continue to learn throughout your life. If you have someone to look up to, and appreciate their qualities then you’d be nothing short of an idiot to not try and adopt some of those qualities. Still being semi-early in my career (my retirement date is supposedly 2052 – ew!) I appreciate I have a lot to learn and hopefully those learnings will set me in good sted for someone appreciating my skills and traits in the future.

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