Leadership: What difference do you want to make in 2018?

Jan 15th, 2018

Great Leaders don’t set out to be a leader …

they set out to make a difference”


At a client Christmas party in December, I was struck by the incredible energy coming from the employees. Their commitment to the organisation was palpable. They worked very hard and the company demands excellence, yet one employee described it ‘as the best job I’ve ever had in my life.’ The more I chatted to people, the more it became evident that these people believe and see they are making a difference – as an organisation, as a team and as individuals.


What strikes me about this client is the high level of trust between management and the teams, and the high level of challenge that is given to every employee from the most junior to senior management.  The more trust you have, the more challenge you can give people – and the more they feel they can challenge you. As a result, people see that their efforts make a difference.


In PWC’s 2017 global survey, nearly a quarter of Chief Executives around the world singled out innovation as their top priority for the coming year. Digital and technology capability, human capital, competitive advantage and customer experience came next. As you consider how to gain high performance this year, thinking in terms of the difference you want to make can be a powerful approach. Here are seven questions to consider:


  1. How clear are you on your vision? 90% of direct reports whose leaders have engaged them in a vision say they are making a difference, according to the latest research by James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their 2017 book The Leadership Think about your purpose, the mission. One of my clients, a leading organisation in the industrial sector, wants to create innovative technology to eliminate high-risk to human labour. This is a compelling vision that he passionately believes will make a difference – and his employees are bought in.


  1. What is your role as leader? It has been said that the measure of leadership is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. What do your people say about you? One of my clients conduct annual peer to peer feedback in their management team meetings to review what each person’s strengths are and what they could be doing better. Being bold enough to have this conversation at senior level is powerful for the management team and a significant signal to the organisation. Equally in this organisation, the directors are expected not to look after their own team and patch, but to support each other and develop a broader expertise across the business. They also have a diverse board – a diversity of viewpoints and experience is key to making a difference.


  1. How do you give employees the freedom to act and achieve their potential? Most recently a team member from a client in the Middle East described the impact of their leader as being like an ‘umbrella’. They felt protected by him with enough space to move freely beneath. Make sure people are clear on their role, ensure they are maximising their strengths. According to the research, when leaders give their direct reports significant freedom and choice in deciding how they do their work, it makes a dramatic difference – 74% of the direct reports frequently given freedom by their leader are proud to tell others that they work for their organisation – as opposed to 16% who are given freedom fairly often.


  1. Are your systems and processes aligned with that vision? Some companies, particularly fast-growing, feel that systems go against the creative and entrepreneurial grain. The opposite is true – put the systems in place to support your growth and it frees you up to focus on what matters – innovation and creativity. Key, for example, is your reward system and development plans. Another client in the property sector rewards and acknowledges people on successful completion of each stage of the property development process, not simply at the end – it may be a financial reward or another way, such as a team social event. Take development plans seriously – if people are developing, they can make a difference to your organisation. And have succession plans in place – build resilience into the organisation so that if someone cannot work, you know who will step in and assure the short and long-term future.


  1. Are you and your people (truly) challenged? According to the research, 94% of direct reports are willing to work hard when leaders very frequently challenge them to try out new and innovative ways to do their work. This compares to only 5% of direct reports when leaders rarely challenge people. At my client, graduate trainees are given challenging projects from the start. Employees are given exposure to a great deal of situations and projects to work on. It is by no means an easy ride yet people are thriving and are grateful for the growth opportunities this affords them. The impact on retention rates is considerable as people know they would not get the same experience elsewhere.


  1. Do you demand excellence? Expect excellence and ensure everyone knows what that means. At one of my clients, staff know that if they are not prepared for a meeting or a presentation, you will be challenged. This creates an edge to the organisation yet, in the context of challenge and development, is stimulating rather than constricting. They are also very transparent – honesty and openness is key to the culture.


  1. Do you encourage curiosity? Encourage your employees to look beyond the four walls of their office – read widely, talk to people from different sectors, connect with people you do not normally talk to in the organisation. The company Hootsuite introduced a ‘random coffee’ initiative – where employees who don’t know each other from different parts of the business are matched up randomly to meet over a cup of coffee. To date 2000 introductions have been made. The power of these connections is considerable – people have identified common issues, brought new perspectives to problems and created development opportunities across the company.




You can’t expect to receive a good deal of effort and commitment from your staff, without giving a good deal to them. Giving here does not only mean financial reward – it means opportunity, challenge and development. Make people feel part of something, truly live your values and watch your company grow.


Potential Plus International runs bespoke team and individual coaching programmes for ambitious and progressive companies that want to be the best in their field. To begin a conversation, contact Oona Collins at www.potentialplusinternational.com.