What does a modern leader look like?


A Twitter post about modern leadership caught my eye recently. James Timpson is chief executive of Timpson Group, which employs over 5,000 people and has nearly 2,000 owned stores. 

This is the handwritten note he tweeted on how to lead a company with a culture of trust and kindness:

I thought it was worth going through these seven points and adding some of our own Firstcall perspective. In the current tight labour market, there is a lower tolerance for poor leadership and bad cultures, and the best employers will stand out amongst their peers.


  1. Little things really matter

For a lot of people, the little things aren’t actually that little and in fact are very appreciated. There are some easy wins here with soft sells like ‘dress down Fridays’ and a day off on birthdays. It is also important to publicly acknowledge success. For example, if an employee has just passed a professional exam or piece of training, then celebrate that.


  2. Operate at the top and the shop floor

Often the best and most productive ideas come from the bottom up. If a company is facing problems, the employees on the shop floor will be a valuable source of ideas on how to improve things.


 3. High standards

Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United football team from 1986-2013 is considered by many to be one of the greatest football managers of all time. He made sure that everyone knew what was expected of them, and they were held accountable for their actions.  Sir Alex led by inspiration, not domination. He showed that high standards must come from the top, setting a good example by working hard himself.


4. Be quick – answer yes or no straight away. Saying “I don’t know” is also okay

Business leaders often have to take fast decisive action to problem-solve. However, “I don’t know but I’ll find out” can be a powerful thing to say. Obviously it needs to be followed up on and the person who asked needs to get their answer. 


  5. Most meetings are a waste of time?

Okay, this one I’m not sure about and I think a lot depends on how meetings are conducted. There needs to be open channels of communication because the more employees know, the better they can affect a company. Great communication skills are a key part of a good leader’s repertoire because messages must be conveyed efficiently and fully understood. People have to be clear on what the corporate purpose is. If you want employees to follow you, you need to know where you are going.


 6. Be kind to everyone – internal and external

Rather than trying to demand more and more from employees so that they eventually burn out, good leaders put emphasis on meeting staff’s physical, emotional and mental needs. Employees who feel valued and cared for, are inspired to take better care of the customers and they push themselves more to meet targets. Employees who feel a sense of fear or threat will have their ability to think clearly or creatively impaired. Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada wouldn’t last long these days.


7. Recognise that your colleagues are better at most things than you are

This last one is a cornerstone because a leader needs to draw out the best from the team. Great leaders don’t tell others what to do or micromanage them. Instead, they empower them to get on with the job. Offering career progression and succession are vital. An important task of any leader is to support the personal and professional growth of those coming up beneath them and nurturing a team to work together. 

There are plenty more leadership traits that could be added to this list – resilience, problem-solving skills, authenticity, humility, ability to create a purpose-driven strategy, conflict resolution, a good listener etc.

Leadership used to be defined as dominance, authority, the ability to order other people around, and being ‘macho’. But times have changed. Empathy and emotional intelligence used to be dismissed as soft skills, but they are now often regarded as essential leadership qualities. This has come into sharper focus since the pandemic.

Strong leadership sets the tone of a company’s culture, and it is culture that has become a driving force for recruitment and retention.

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