What can great leaders teach us?


I was privileged to be invited to the retirement celebration of a colleague recently that allowed me to bid farewell to a friend I worked with at BAE Systems several years ago. I learned a great deal from him and he played a major role in making me who I am today.

The event gave me an opportunity to look back on his distinguished career and think about what makes a great leader. Here I share my reflections on the lessons he taught me when we worked together at the manufacturing business more than 20 years ago and, most importantly, what other leaders can learn from him.

Growing the confidence of leaders

This colleague was a senior member of the HR team. I worked alongside him and I learned so much during that time.

He stands out above others because he trusted me and gave me the opportunity to take the lead on a major piece of work for the company. I had to negotiate a pay deal for the business and it was the first time I’d ever taken on this sort of challenge.

Crucially, he let me take the lead but was always available to provide support and advice when I needed it. He was a great role model and I’ve always tried to emulate his key strengths since.

Prior to working with BAE Systems, he worked in the automotive industry and brought some great experiences and insights with him. His advice was always very calm and considered and it was very valuable to have that.

He provided gentle guidance and developed my confidence. He also helped to demystify our employee engagement role, which was seen as something of a black art at the time!

By helping me to hone my skills and by growing my confidence, he helped me to become the first female member of a major consultative committee that worked across BAE Systems and includes senior managers and trade union representatives.

What makes a great leader?

We can all learn a lot from my colleague’s approach to leadership and there’s an important lesson for every leader – don’t underestimate the impact of spending a little time developing and supporting members of your team.

This is what he did for me and this is what matters in life. Invest just a small amount of time and trust and you will see great things happen.

Investing time in others and seeing results is one of the most fulfilling aspects of leadership and it is also a great motivator – helping leaders to achieve even more. This is time that is well invested for you and the other person and should be a key trait of any leader.

Trust in your people as they will have more potential than they give themselves credit for.

Follow my colleague’s example and give them the trust and freedom they need to excel – it will inspire you as a leader and will have a positive impact on your business.