What good leadership really entails

I am sometimes asked what good leadership entails, what qualities an inspirational leader should ideally have and what I do differently in running the institution I head.

There are no simple answers to these questions.

In fact, I don’t think there is a right set book answer to these questions.

Of course, there are certain universal qualities that a leader should have and which are essential in providing direction and motivating employees.

A lot has been written on motivation, about the need to provide a healthy and safe work environment, and benefits that go beyond the industry standard.

These are important things that a leader should implement in the workplace.

There are also softer things that make all the difference in a leader, things that if implemented will encourage employees to rise above the call of duty.


I believe the people we work with are the cornerstone of the business; you may have the best products, visionary strategies, elaborate five-year blueprints, the funkiest offices and the highest pay packages, but when staff are not aligned to the vision, even the best leader will have a problem moving the organisation forward.

A company is as good as its people. It follows that a leader is also as good as the people he leads.

As leaders, we must ensure that the wheel runs smoothly, that it is well oiled and we are all pushing in the same direction.

I am constantly reminding myself of the inordinate amount of time we spend working.


About a third of our lives is spent in the workplace.

The other two thirds we are either sleeping, spending time with family and friends or stuck in traffic jams.

We might as well enjoy our time where we work.

Leaders who spend resources in making the workplace an enjoyable experience find that a happy people are a productive people.

Staff members should look forward to a day in the office. They must feel a sense of purpose.


I remember reading about a cleaner who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, and who, when asked by American President John F. Kennedy what he did, answered: “I am helping to put man on the moon.”

That is one employee who has a higher purpose, perhaps even more dedicated to his job than others within the organisation who may have huge titles and earn six-figure salaries.

And it’s not just the physical office I am talking about here but the wholesomeness of the work environment.

It’s also about engendering human interaction, making sure that people are pulling in the same direction and that they all share a common goal.

For me, leadership is about having your finger on the pulse of the organisation that you are heading, knowing what makes the people in it tick, rallying the troops for a common cause and walking with them in the journey towards achieving organisational and individual goals.

It is one thing to point the troops in the direction they ought to take; it is another thing to walk the talk.

A good leader must constantly send the right signals to staff, that he is there for them at all times.
Leaders also must not only make their staff motivated but they must imbue in them a sense of belonging, have them aligned to a common goal and make them consider a day in the office not just like any other, but make them leave at the end of the day feeling as having contributed to “taking man to the moon”, as it were.

It’s not always about work, however.

Good leaders must encourage those working in their organisation to find a work-life balance.

It is essential that we remember that staff members have another life outside the office.


They have families and friends; fitness regimes to fulfil; community obligations to compete.

That is why at KCB, we provide new mothers with flexi working hours that allow them to spend more time with their babies.

It’s the small things that matter.

It has been said that good leaders show their true colours during a crisis, when they need to marshal their troops to soldier on, even when the odds are stacked against them.


The almost mythical figure, Captain Hernan Cortes, famously burnt his troops’ ships during an invasion in Veracruz in the early 16th century.

He left his soldiers with no option but to fight.

Perhaps that was a rather drastic measure, but then, in a time of war, this was the right decision.

That was a true leader who knows his troops and what is needed to motivate them.

We need not burn our boats; but as leaders, we need to essentially know what choices we must make to keep our troops focused on the bigger picture.

Mr Oigara is the KCB Group chief executive officer. [email protected]

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