What is the Most Important Character Trait of a Great Leader?

Monday 07 September 2015
Watch a video of what CMI managers and leaders think are the most important traits of a great leader, and then read some inspirational advice from the CEO of Shakespeare's globe, Neil constable, and CMI president Mike Clasper

What makes a great manager? Delegates at the CMI Midlands regional conference and awards were asked to name what character traits were the most important for a great leader to possess. You can watch their answers in the video below.

Advice From Two Management Greats


Neil Constable, who is a CMI companion, has staged some of the nation’s most acclaimed theatre productions of the past five years as manager of Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Bankside, showcasing exciting acting talent in a host of classic works.




Mike Clasper is a senior executive with formidable experience, doubling as Chartered Management Institute (CMI) president and chairman of rag-trade giant Coats Plc. His previous board roles include stints at Which? And HMRC. He is also a Chartered Manager and a CMI companion.

Here, they offer their insights into some of the biggest hot-button issues in the world of management and leadership…

What advice would you give other managers on preparing for the difficult conversations you inevitably sometimes have with employees and team members?

Neil Constable Prepare, rehearse and execute as soon as possible – don’t wait for others to have that difficult conversation. Ensure the news doesn’t come out of the blue or from a manager that staff don’t know.

Always script the message and rehearse it. Ensure there is a proper opportunity for staff to follow up – especially if the news is going to have a significant impact on their work lives.

Mike Clasper Surprises can and should be avoided if at all possible in these situations. So, be clear upfront about expectations of the individual and team in the context of the organisation’s goals. Then, steady communication on performance against expectations and the challenges that the organisation is facing.

In terms of developing the personal skills to handle the conversation, generic role-plays are a good tool. Presentational skills will give you the confidence to keep the conversation on track, sensing when to listen and when to talk. Finally, in very challenging situations, situation-specific role-playing is a good idea.

You can read more great advice on managing difficult conversations here

How pervasive and damaging do you believe “accidental management” – ie, employees who are promoted to positions of management responsibility without proper training – is across UK business?

MC Unfortunately, they are lots of accidental managers – people with good professional and craft skills nominated to leadership with no development or assessment of leadership skills. Some flourish on raw talent, but they are the minority in my experience. Others flounder. This results in a less productive team or organisation – a major UK issue. And the people suffering from floundering accidental managers are less engaged, dissatisfied at work and often under undue stress.

NC In the creative and performing arts sector we generally have good support for developing new managers; it’s the financial and budgeting skills that usually require additional training.

Andy Grove, former boss of Intel, famously said that “Only the paranoid survive”. With the pace of technological and social change, is his warning more relevant than ever?

MC The pace of change is furious, but I’m not sure paranoia is healthy. I prefer the word “curious” about the changes that affect or could affect the purpose and goals of your organisation. The pace also demands agility so that your organisation can respond at speed.

NC We’re always looking for new ways for people and new audiences to engage with our work, whether away on tour, on screen or at home. Our biggest lesson was not to expect people only to come to Bankside to see our productions; theatre-goers are keen to continue a conversation with us long after the performance they’ve seen.

Do you believe that it’s important to give employees a sense of ownership; and, if so, what are the most effective techniques in your organisation for making this happen?

MC There is emotional and actual ownership. There is considerable evidence that passion, “ownership”, for the purpose of the organisation leads to better engagement, and so better results. To achieve this emotional ownership, the start is to be clear on the purpose of the organisation. You also need to find a way of framing it so that staff can feel emotional engagement to the purpose. I’ve worked recently in two very different organisations, Which? and HMRC. At Which? the purpose has been framed for many years as “making people as powerful as the organisations that they face in their daily lives”. This framing works. In HMRC, it was implicitly understood as “collecting taxes due”. Framing it as “collecting the money to fund the UK’s public services” helped to build better staff engagement.

There is also actual financial ownership by staff, either directly or indirectly. In commercial organisations, I’ve always tried to encourage actual ownership, either through subsidised share schemes or performance rewards directly or indirectly related to share ownership. This applies throughout the organisation, not just at the top.

Read more about the benefits of employee ownership here

NC It’s hard not to have a feeling of pride and ownership in what’s taking place on stage or in our education studios! Every day, twice a day, the curtain goes up for 1,600 theatre-goers, and we welcome more than a million visitors a year through our doors. I always suggest to staff having a hard day to sneak into the theatre and watch the audience’s reaction.

In your organisation, what are the most effective ways to improve managers’ productivity?

MC I’ve worked in organisations with different but successful approaches, and they all share common traits: they treat management development as a critical activity; they resource it with training off the job; they expect it of leaders; they assess leadership skills as part of the promotion decision. In essence, they develop a cadre of professional managers and leaders, not well-meaning amateurs.

NC With the tight financial envelope in which most performing arts organisations have to work, managers' productivity is often about lack of resources. As part of our annual budgeting process, we have a good system providing managers with the opportunity to bid for Special Projects funding to support their work in the short to medium term, be it for additional staffing, new equipment or testing a potential new working model.

What are the best ways to ensure that managers aren’t rewarded for failure?

MC The big question is how to define performance in advance. It has to be linked to the organisation’s purpose: how is this person contributing to what the organisation exists to achieve and its long-term success? That doesn’t just mean defining performance in terms of quarterly financial results, but also looking at non-financial measures and how the organisation affects all its stakeholders – not just its shareholders.

There’s also a wider need for managers who can accurately judge performance and have honest conversations when it needs to improve. A lot of managers struggle with confronting poor performance among their people and find it difficult to talk to their teams when they need to see improvements, especially if they as managers haven’t had relevant training. But if there’s one universal skill that managers need, this could be it. We’ve got to do better when it comes to managing performance.

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