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What makes a great leader?

Leading a business is hard. Leading a business in an unpredictable economic and political climate while trying to juggle purpose, profit, and progress is really hard.


So how can we make sure we’re in the best place to take on the challenge? How can we lead a team that will seize opportunities? How can we build a business and a sector that is future-focused and primed for growth?

According to Harvard Business School’s Linda A. Hill, it’s as easy as ABC.

She’s been a Professor at Harvard for nearly 40 years and has seen leadership evolve over those decades from a reliance on strategy to a focus on vision, and now the increasing importance of leading with innovation.

Hill is the co-author of ‘Collective Genius’ that takes a detailed look into the relationship between leadership and innovation, but we love the simplicity of her ABC to becoming a better leader.

The three pillars of leadership

A is for Architect

“Building the culture and capabilities necessary for a group of people to be able to collaborate, experiment and learn.”

Leaders need to make it possible for people with different points of view and expertise to come together and create ‘collective genius’.

And when the magic happens to leverage, harness, and unleash that genius for the collective good.

B is for Bridger

“We have to go outside the organisation to get access to talent and tools.”

To innovate at speed and scale we need to be open to looking for support by forging external partnerships.

From studying innovation labs and corporate accelerators, Hill found that even companies who are pushing boundaries need to partner with others.

Part of leadership is identifying others who are better at their specialism than you as that’s gives you the time and space to focus on the core capabilities of your business.

C is for Catalyst

“This is when you’re trying to accelerate co-creation throughout your entire ecosystem.”

It could be because you need other people or other organisations to create something you need to move forward, or because you want to lift the whole ecosystem – and thus lift everyone in it.

Great leaders have ambition that goes beyond their organisation. They want affect change across a sector, a community, or even a country or continent.

Letting go of formal authority

Hill believes that shaping culture and capabilities is the new source of influence and power. As a leader it can be tempting to try to use formal authority to control and steer progress, but you can’t make people innovate, they need to want to innovate.

We need to make authentic connections both inside and outside our organisations based on trust and empowerment. This brings committed people who are willing to take a risk and try something new – and that is when innovation happens.