What makes a good leader?
Drawing on her own experiences, Leona Barr-Jones looks at the differences between leadership and management and why they are important in business.
Leadership is the lifeblood of the British Army and underpins the people element of any operation in the military or business, innovating and shaping values and behaviours to ensure that an organisation performs well. The relationship between command, leadership and management is often blurred and some see management as the business of resources, and leadership as the source of vision. Management can also be considered as taking people in a direction that they would follow naturally in an organised manner and leadership as inspiring people to take a step outside their comfort zone. People’s comfort zones can be severely challenged when in a stressed environment and the circumstances in which soldiers operate are among the most stressful found anywhere, whether war fighting, peacekeeping or in training.
Since leaving the Army I have worked on some major logistical projects including the operational readiness for the surface transport arrangements for The 2012 Olympics and for the 2012 New Year's Eve celebrations in London. Leadership and strategic thinking were key during Olympic planning to really understand all the different scenarios that may arise when millions of people descended on London. My team spent many hours pressure testing situations and when some of those scenarios came up, they were dealt with efficiently by the team who took them in their stride. They finally understood the Army phrase 'train hard fight easy!' that Army training and unflappability proved vital during the huge challenge of the moving beast that was the Olympic Torch cavalcade as it came into Central London and the sheer numbers as one million people turned up to watch the cycle road race.
"Many great leaders set a path for others to follow by taking their team with them, giving them space to be creative and thereby allowing them to ensure the vision is realised."
For me, the key transferable skill from my Army leadership training to my roles as Olympic Programme and Operational Manager was the ability to actually make a decision quickly. The military environment often demands decisions to be made in the moment with novel and agile thinking required to unpick that complex 'wicked' problem.
The relationship between command, leadership and management is often blurred.
I see leadership as a form of empowerment where the leader gives others responsibility to create his or her vision of the end product. A strong leader will carry people along and will inspire people to step outside their comfort zone. In fact many great leaders set a path for others to follow by taking their team with them, giving them space to be creative and thereby allowing them to ensure the vision is realised. All organisations need strong leaders but they also need strong managers. A good manager will ensure that the mechanics and processes are in place to get the job done in the best and most efficient way possible. Leadership takes many forms and I have worked with some very strong leaders with very different styles over the course of both my army and business careers. The aim is always the same – to get the job done.
Leadership under pressure and the ability to make a decision is something that all great entrepreneurs possess and it is this that differentiates them from good managers. Napoleon said “Nothing is more difficult and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.”
Leona Barr-Jones is founder of Barr-Jones Associates. She has carved a successful career for herself since leaving the regular Army in 2011, where she was an army officer, after 21 years' service. She now balances a continued career in the Army Reserve with running Barr-Jones Associates, an award-winning collaborative consultancy firm working on change and transformation programmes in both the private and public sectors