Like any skill worth having, leadership must be developed and honed continuously to ensure it remains effective. And contrary to the famous adage, this process proves that the best leaders are made, not born.
Although different leadership styles can be effective across specific industries, the vision of what a good leader looks like remains the same. A good leader is supportive of the people they lead, capable within their role and confident about the vision they are leading their team toward. They create the culture and capabilities that allow people to participate and thrive.
Meet the leaders
So, what does a leader do? We spoke with two accomplished Australian business owners to learn more about the typical workday of a leader.
Fleur Madden is the CEO and co-founder of Freelancing Gems and has decades of experience as a successful entrepreneur and leader, establishing several businesses in her professional history.
Valerie Ling is a clinical psychologist and owner of the Centre for Effective Living and the Centre for Effective Learning, with a specialist focus on leadership coaching and preventing professional burnout.
Madden and Ling share their thoughts with us on what leadership means and the steps they’ve taken to hone their leadership skills. They offer practical advice, discuss motivations and dispel common leadership misconceptions to give an honest insight into what a good leader looks like.
What a good leader looks like
Seeing first-hand what a good leader looks like can give you something to model your leadership behaviours on. But if you have never been led by a good leader, it can be hard to know what makes a leader effective.
Successful leaders possess specific skills that allow them to bring their ideas to fruition alongside a competent team. But even more importantly, they have the right leader mindset in place.
We asked Madden and Ling how they ensure they lead with impact every day and what it takes to do so successfully.
1. Have a schedule
As a leader, consistency is crucial. You don’t need to work from a timetable each day, but you should have a daily routine and habits that you follow for consistency.
For Madden, this means meeting with her team to discuss everyone’s schedule for the day and assessing whether there are any roadblocks. At 8 am, she calls clients and partners to make the most of her morning productivity, with meetings taking up the rest of her day.
Ling’s week in a leadership role is spread over her two businesses. Specific days of the week are allocated to each company so she can narrow her focus. Set times are assigned to certain parts of her businesses on those days.
2. Be ready to make tough decisions
Running a business or leading a team isn’t always positive. But nobody ever achieved success as an entrepreneur or executive by shying away from hard decisions. As a leader, you must be prepared to make tough choices and follow through.
‘Great leaders make tough decisions,’ says Madden. ‘Some people don’t always like the decisions you’ve made. Sometimes it won’t be the best decision for you either. But you must make the right decision for the business.’
3. Show empathy
The future of work has arrived, and it’s never been more critical for leaders to be in touch with their emotional and psychological needs. With a greater demand for thoughtfulness in the workplace, especially in areas of diversity and inclusion, leaders of today must know how to express and model empathy.
Madden believes giving everyone a chance to contribute and find meaning at work is essential, especially for women. This means considering options such as flexible working arrangements that are more inclusive for everyone.
4. Ask for feedback
‘Am I a good leader?’ This question can be hard to ask — and answer — but self-reflection is an integral part of improvement. As a leader, it helps to stay mindful of what makes you a great leader and what doesn’t.
As most people struggle to answer this question honestly and without bias, it should be asked of the people you lead. Develop a process for your organisation that allows others to give honest and anonymous feedback if they choose to do so. Be prepared to work on any behaviours or skills highlighted in this feedback and demonstrate that you are doing so.
5. Look for learning opportunities
A good leader never stops learning and growing.
Ling urges leaders to look for learning opportunities everywhere. Leadership training can come from online courses, networking events, podcasts, mentoring and secondary education.
There is always something new to learn and a chance to improve your leadership abilities.
What does a good leader do differently?
The difference between a good leader and an average leader comes down to their relationship with their team and their ability to inspire.
According to Madden, setting an example for the people you lead is essential, as is getting them excited. ‘A great leader sets the vision people buy into and want to be a part of.’
A good leader aims to motivate and support their team so that they feel confident in their abilities and responsibilities.
‘We want to show the people who work with us that they’re important, that they’re contributing to the company and that what they’re doing will make a difference,’ says Ling.
What is the difference between leadership and management?
Managers are hands on and in the trenches — A “manager” is a specific role in a business’s hierarchy, with specific obligations and responsibilities.
Managers pursue goals through coordinated, pre-planned tasks in a business. Their chief responsibility is to organise resources and people to achieve these goals.
Leaders inspire their team by influence — Leaders will work towards positively impacting the business and themselves by empowering the group to work independently. True leadership is less about telling people what to do and more about offering support. In doing so, leaders will lean towards avoiding micromanagement.
In contrast to management, the term ‘leader’ doesn’t denote a single role in a business. Rather, leadership can be displayed by anyone who inspires, engages and encourages others within an organisation.
Ling believes that a good leader is someone who doesn’t have to force their influence on others. ‘Influence needs to be earned. You should work towards gaining the trust and respect of the people you lead.’
As Deakin found, being a good follower makes a good leader.
How do you know if you’re a good leader?
‘Leadership can be assessed on how you make people feel,’ says Madden.
Leaders build trust and create a space where people can communicate freely. They ensure the psychological safety and wellbeing of their team. The people you lead need to feel comfortable speaking their minds respectfully.
Ask for feedback and listen to what people are telling you. Actively work towards improving yourself based on the areas that others have highlighted. The power of humility is an asset for a leader. Being able to admit when you’re wrong or asking for help from others will be hugely beneficial in developing leadership skills.
What are some common misconceptions about leadership?
For Madden, the biggest misconception is expecting a business to succeed just because you worked hard.
‘Being a leader is knowing that there are going to be challenges. Sometimes you’re in the trenches and sometimes you win.’ Working on skills like cultivating resilience will ensure you have the stability and strength people look for in a leader, especially during difficult times.
Ling believes that the biggest myth surrounding leadership is that leaders are born, not made.
‘Leaders must work at their role and develop skills that will enable them to improve. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that what makes someone appear like a leader doesn’t necessarily make them an effective leader.’
Real-world experience combined with formal education is the best formula to excel in a leadership position.
The Deakin University Master of Leadership is designed for established business leaders who want to gain recognition for their experience and further develop their skills so they can lead more successfully.
What’s the best advice you’d give someone seeking a leadership role?
Ling’s advice is to regularly take stock of your thoughts, actions and behaviours, not just those of others.
‘I always ask: How am I leading myself? Am I frustrated? Am I reactive? Am I angry? Am I being unfair? Because to lead others, you have to put a high discipline in leading yourself.’
She also places a high value on understanding the world outside of her business.
‘Are you so micro-focused on your business that you don’t have any other interests or don’t know how the world is going? My job is ensuring that I understand how the world works and how our work fits into that world.’
Madden believes that leadership is all about having a vision for your business and being able to excite and motivate others with that vision.
‘Leadership is about having people on the journey with you to help you create the end outcome. Be prepared to live and breathe your business. If you’re not prepared to do that, you can’t expect anybody else to.’
Leadership jobs and career pathways
Versatility is an essential skill for a leader to have, and it’s also a professional advantage you’ll gain with leadership skills. Seasoned leaders find their abilities applicable to most industries and sectors, with their experience opening doors for them to try new careers and avenues with greater flexibility.
Multiple career pathways are available to those with leadership experiences and relevant educational backgrounds. The jobs below are some of the pathways you might consider when looking forward to your future within a leadership role.
Chief Executive Officer
A CEO is usually the highest-ranking professional within an organisation and is responsible for making vital business decisions about strategy, operations and vision. Their duties include assembling the leadership team, providing a link between the business and the board and managing the organisation's structure.
According to Seek, this key leadership role has a salary range between $215,000 to $235,000.
A chairperson is the highest-ranking member of a company’s board of directors - a group of people elected to represent stakeholders.
Chairs are responsible for guiding and defining a corporate board’s priorities, as well as presenting those policies and goals to other stakeholders. They typically have strong corporate leadership experience and are elected through a vote.
The managing director of a company is tasked with overseeing its performance. In a critical leadership position, they are responsible for developing the corporate strategy and ensuring employees are aligned with that vision. According to Seek, a managing director’s salary range is between $230,000 and $250,000.
As the person who establishes a business and often takes a substantial financial risk, an entrepreneur requires expert leadership skills to succeed. These professionals control all aspects of a company during its growth stages, so they need to be skilled leaders. Entrepreneurs can earn varying salaries depending on the size and operations of their businesses.
What is the Master of Leadership?
Deakin offers a first-of-a-kind learning experience for experienced leaders with the Master of Leadership. As one of Deakin’s Professional Practice degrees, students will use their recent professional experience to earn credentials and gain recognition for their skills while also expanding their skills.
The Master of Leadership is a valuable degree for experienced leaders within all sectors and industries. The course combines formal learning with structured reflection and recognition of the existing skills and capabilities you have gained within your professional leadership experience.
A leader’s thoughts on the Master of Leadership
Madden is currently completing her Master of Leadership online through Deakin as she manages her businesses.
‘Looking for a formal pathway for evidence-based leadership teachings, I found the Master of Leadership. I sent inquiries to a few universities but found Deakin to be the most responsive,’ she says.
‘The course has shown me the behaviours that intuitively fit into some core leadership competencies and the areas I need to work on. I’d recommend the course to anyone seeking confidence and credibility as a leader, as well as a healthy dose of humility.’
Deakin’s Success Advisers support students on the learning journey, including enrolment, assistance with course queries, and graduation. Madden explains that one student advisor has worked with her from the beginning. ‘They led the whole process and answered all my questions.’
A degree designed for leaders
The Master of Leadership is uniquely designed for anyone in a senior leadership role looking to strengthen their skills and get formally acknowledged for their leadership experience. The course can be completed in as little as one year part-time, and is delivered through a 100% online model with no exams for absolute flexibility.
The Master of Leadership from Deakin allows you to showcase your abilities as you earn 10 Professional Practice credentials that recognise your leadership experience. These give you a chance to reflect on recent leadership challenges and prove your wealth of experience in a portfolio. Your skills will be acknowledged and recognised even before you graduate.
Deakin's Master of Leadership develops and enhances your existing skills and mindset to position you for success. Speak to an enrolment advisor about the Master of Leadership or read the course page for more information.