What is Leadership?

Posted: Monday December 6 2021

By: Abbie Coleman

What does great leadership look like? This is a question that I often ask people. What is so different about those we see as great leaders?

What is Leadership?

By Catherine Baker 

We all have leaders who have inspired us. Leaders who we would like to emulate. Even possibly leaders who we haven’t had a natural affinity with, but whom we respect. But what attributes and qualities do they need to display to be truly successful as leaders?

In this piece I examine some of the consistent methods and tactics employed by great leaders; leaders who would be worthy of a top podium finish.


“Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader.” So said one of the most successful coaches of all time, Vince Lombardi.

The first step for any great leader is to understand themselves. What makes me tick? What are my strengths? How am I likely to act in certain situations? What motivates me?

Having this awareness can enable a leader to ensure a targeted focus of their energies, and so excel. Or, as Robert Dilts put it: “Before you can be someone, you need to know who you are.”

But that’s only half the story. This awareness also drives an understanding of the need to adapt and modify your own behaviours where necessary to work to get the best out of others. We call this becoming ‘behaviourally agile’.

Growth mindset

This is the phrase coined by Carol Dweck as a result of lengthy research into mindsets and their impact on success. Making a distinction between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, Ms Dweck has shown that a belief that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence, can help us fulfill our potential. The basic principle…..the brain is like a muscle that can be worked on and strengthened.

A growth mindset is a key trait of successful leadership. An openness to the fact that they can improve, and a willingness to work hard at doing so. The best leaders spread this out to their people, which brings us on to….


Being a ‘multiplier’ is a concept developed by Liz Wiseman, with Greg McKeown, in their book ‘Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter’.  In contrast to what they call ‘diminishers’, multipliers use their intelligence to amplify the capabilities and potential of those whom they lead.  They inspire their people to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. One key distinction between multipliers and diminishers is that the former know and accept that they don’t have all the answers.

We sum it up like this (and this quote has pride of place on our ‘thinking wall’ at Sport and Beyond): “Successful people discover what they are good at while successful leaders discover what other people are good at.”


This Autumn there will be an awful lot of focus on the Rugby World Cup. Bill Walsh’s “The Score Takes Care of Itself” is often quoted as Stuart Lancaster’s bible. Like any good coach and leader, the England Rugby head coach will have absorbed lessons, principles and pieces of advice from many different sources, but we can see why he likes Bill Walsh’s book so much. One of the key lessons ties in very nicely with the principle above, by focusing on the importance of teaching. In fact Mr Walsh states that “teaching defines your leadership.” Again, it is that focus on recognizing ability in a person and then teaching that individual how to reach his or her potential in ways that help the team. It’s interesting to note that many great leaders in the world of sport started off as teachers.

Standards of Performance

This approach is once again highlighted in Bill Walsh’s book, but you see it in all the best organisations. For Mr Walsh it referred to the environment of excellence that guided everything he did. What did he mean? What sort of things was he talking about? Well, they include:

  • exhibiting and insisting on a work ethic directed at continual improvement;
  • respecting each person in the organisation and the work they do;
  • being committed to learning and teaching;
  • demonstrating character;
  • making the connection between details and improvement and relentlessly seeking the latter;
  • showing self-control;
  • demonstrating loyalty; and
  • making sacrifice and commitment the organisation’s trademark.

Those with potential to become podium place leaders will look at that list and feel inspired.

My hope? That women reading this piece will become inspired, and realise that it doesn’t take rocket science to become a great leader. Hard work and commitment, yes. And of course, opportunities.

Adapted from an article originally published for Women in Sport Week 2015.

About the author

Catherine started off her career as a corporate lawyer, before moving across into training and education roles as her family began to grow.  Catherine has always maintained one foot in the ‘sport’ camp, both through competing and coaching.  Her continued desire to help ensure people fulfil their potential, plus the wish to balance family life with work life, culminated in her setting up her own business, Sport and Beyond.  Catherine and her team are passionate about developing self-aware and effective leaders.

# What is Leadership?

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