What’s inside the mind of a great leader? In her latest Global Webinar ‘10 things business leaders should do’ Professor Hannah Greenwood – leadership coach, former psychotherapist, and Professor of Leadership at Hult – looks at the psychological aspects leadership, and how to achieve ‘the champion mindset’ required to be a great business leader.

Professor Greenwood clearly differentiates between managers and leaders, and identifies two essential elements of leadership: the key task of a leader, and the essence of leadership. Far from being those skills and abilities traditionally associated with good management – economics, marketing, operations – the attributes required for great leadership are far more fundamental, and far more human.

The key task of a leader

Business leaders must have a clear personal vision, says Greenwood. They must have a strong sense of purpose and a desire to create a better future. Why? Because the key task of leadership is to bring hope to those that follow them. [Tweet “The key task of leadership is to bring hope to those that follow them.”]

Professor Greenwood points to the example of Steve Jobs, one of the most visionary business leaders of our time, who told students at Stanford University:

“Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

The essence of leadership

To have a clear personal vision, you must first have clear self-awareness, says Greenwood. Dr. Douglas LaBier, the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC, is a business psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Dr LaBier agrees that leadership must start with self-awareness:

“The higher up you go in companies, the more you’re dealing with psychological and relational issues. Successful CEO leadership requires astuteness about others…And you can’t know the truth about another without knowing it about yourself… Self-knowledge and the relational competencies they’re linked with are central to a CEO’s ability to formulate, articulate and lead a strategic vision.” [Tweet “The higher up you go in companies, the more you’re dealing with psychological issues”]

This crucial skill of self-awareness is also central to how Professor Greenwood defines ‘the essence of leadership’: “The essence of leadership is trust. It’s about creating trust between you and your people. And to have trust, we have to become trustworthy. We have to start look to ourselves, we have to have self-awareness”

The Champion Mindset

Professor Greenwood has distilled the internal processes associated with great leadership into what she calls ‘The Champion Mindset’. Part of this is mastering the three qualities she identifies as crucial to achieving our highest potential: integrity, passion, and charisma.

Passion is a familiar word in business; almost every resume will include the phrase “I am passionate about marketing/finance/the manufacturing industry.” But what is required of business leaders is to examine what truly ‘makes their heart sing’ as Greenwood phrases it. It is only once we have identified what brings us true joy in life that we can have the faith and courage to pursue it. And it is this that will inspire others to follow us.

Unlocking charisma

Charisma is also a word often heard in relation to leaders. Indeed, much of the early studies on leadership were devoted to trying to define this mystical quality, quite literally meaning ‘divine gift’ in Greek. In Professor Greenwood’s experience, this is a gift we all possess, but most of us haven’t learned to push through our innate shyness to communicate our passion and integrity – which is where charisma resides.

For Greenwood, the key to unlocking charisma lies in letting go of what is known in psychological terminology as ‘the adapted self’ (the inner good girl/boy wanting to please others) and finding ‘the authentic self’ (your true and highest potential self). This is particularly hard for high achievers says Greenwood:

“I see it all the time with people who have been great managers, great with this adaptive self – but now they’re being asked to be leaders. They’re being asked to be authentic, to be themselves. Often for high achievers who have excelled at being adapted – this is extremely challenging and causes a lot of confusion.”

But authenticity, and the vulnerability it entails, is essential if people are to trust you, and follow you.

Great leaders – born or made?

It’s the age-old question and the subject of much research: are leaders born to lead, or are they taught to lead? Dr. Ronald E. Riggio, the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology and former Director of the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College, reflects Professor Greenwood’s stance when he says:

“Although certain qualities do predispose some people to attain leadership positions and be better at leading, effective leaders actually hone their skills through experience, conscious self-development, education, and training.”[Tweet “Effective leaders hone their skills through experience, self-development, education, and training.”]

Greenwood points to ‘detached involvement’ and teamwork as being skills that not only can be, but often have to be, taught. ‘Detached involvement’ relates to good decision making, particularly decisions that have big, important consequences. Most people, most of the time, use cognitive intelligence, their IQ, to make decisions. But in order to make “faster, clearer, right decisions”, we need to employ all the intelligence at our disposal – emotional (EQ), physical (PQ), intuitive (NQ), and social (SQ – a discipline that takes practice.

Similarly, being a great team player might not be something you automatically associate with leadership. Or you might think of it as a particular style of leadership. And that might be because you’re a high achiever. Professor Greenwood has herself struggled with teamwork and describes the realization that it plays a crucial role in good leadership as ‘a late lesson’:

“High achievers love to lead and are happy to follow those they admire. But the team player aspect of leadership is often something that we have to learn.”

Watch the full webinar ‘10 things business leaders should do’ or download the 3-minute read.


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Professor Hannah Greenwood is Professor of Management Skills at Hult International Business School where she teaches Visionary Leadership and Leadership Teams. She is also an international leadership coach and speaker. She specializes in visionary leadership, personal presence, and communication. Professor Greenwood was formerly Head of Counseling Courses at the Metanoia Training Institute for Psychotherapy.

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