february 9 photo

What is a leader?

I was in a hotel conference room working with nearly a dozen top executives from a variety of companies.  We were discussing the various behaviours, attributes and communication strategies that leaders can purposefully deploy to better motivate and engage their employees.  One of the participants looked up for a moment from his workbook and remarked, almost casually, “I don’t feel like a leader.”

After the workshop, I called over to Clarke Facades, a company that has steadily grown from a plaster and flooring business when Michael Clarke founded it in the 1980s – to an innovative engineering organization now headed  by eldest son, Eugene, the very same person who previously mentioned he did not “feel like a leader”, and asked to talk to him.

Eugene graciously agreed to share his thoughts which I hope will also resonate with you. Although he’s been in the top position at Clarke Facades for five years, this married father of three young children had not fully transferred the mantle of leader onto himself, because he was still picturing an old style of leadership in his mind.

What was the old-style leader?

“I suppose there’s a leader avatar,” Eugene said to me, “of a person with loads of grey hair and loads of charisma who is authoritarian and likes to hear themselves speak. I think of old World War II leaders or Napoleon. When I compare myself to that, well, I’m relatively young, I’m not a social animal, I’m quite reserved. I am relatively humble, and I don’t rule with an iron fist.”

Does that sound like you? I wonder what you see when you close your eyes and imagine a “leader.” There are as many different definitions as there are different human examples.

To me, a leader, is an influencer. I don’t mean someone with a zillion followers on Instagram. But someone whose words and actions can positively – or negatively – impact a person or group of people. You don’t become a leader when you have a multitude of people under you. You are a leader simply when you are conscious that you do influence people and take ownership of how you influence.

Therefore, each of us has the capacity to become a leader.  From the way we influence our colleagues to our children to ourselves.

The question becomes one of what type of influencer or leader are we? Are we the old “command and control” style that Eugene was picturing? Or are we something new?

What are the traits of a new-style, positive leader?

“I think my style of leadership,” Eugene considered aloud with me, “stems from a deeper sense of purpose.  For instance, we use our family name on our business and that’s because it means something. It stands for our integrity and it’s why I come to work every day.”

What is your sense of purpose? Does your name mean something to you? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Asking these kinds of questions can help you determine what you stand for as a leader.

  1. Discipline

For Eugene, actively demonstrating discipline every day is important to him as a leader. “On Saturdays, for instance, I might want to kick back, but you know there’s a piece of work that needs to be done, so I turn the TV off. It’s doing the right thing, when no one is looking.”

Eugene and I agree self-discipline needs to conquer our self-indulgence. We may feel like watching TV and think that will make us happy, but in the long-run self-control and getting the job done will provide more fulfillment.

  1. Gratitude

“Next on my list,” Eugene reported, “would be gratitude. I praise twice and criticise once. If I actively praise my seven-year-old, she will jump up and down and if I give out to her, she looks all down-hearted. So, I try to catch my employees ‘doing it right’ which encourages them to do it more.”

  1. Grit

I suppose the other big leadership quality personal for me would be ‘grit’”, Eugene said. “This is the ability to sort out troubles and difficulties, even if it’s really painful or you’re not feeling it. Don’t leave it. It will create more hassle. Don’t kick the can down the road.”

  1. Appearance and Punctuality

Eugene capped his list with these two important traits. Arriving on time shows you value the other person as does taking pride in your appearance.

“I once met one of my competitors and he was so badly dressed it gave a bad impression. But he was a competitor, so I was glad!” Eugene joked.

All joking aside, John Maxwell, whom Inc. Magazine lists as the top leadership and management expert in the world, has described a leader as someone “who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” Eugene therefore, is clearly a modern-day leader. So, too, can be you.


Whether we have a “Sales Executive” title or not, each of us is always selling something. I’ll talk to a couple of top salespeople to discover strategies you can apply in any situation.


Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

Gina London

Gina London

An Emmy-winning former CNN correspondent and anchor with premier clients in five continents, she guides the top companies and executives in the world to more positively connect and engage with their employees, their board and themselves.

Untitled design (100)
Meet Gina!

An Emmy-winning former CNN correspondent and anchor with premier clients in five continents, she guides the top companies and executives in the world to more positively connect and engage with their employees, their board and themselves.

Let's Connect!
Blog Categories
Lead Magnet