What makes a compelling leader?


One cannot guide others and especially young people into success without talking about influence and the myth that is leadership.

For a large majority of my life, I have always held positions of power and influence; be it as an employee or as an employer.

There are lessons that I wished I had known earlier and there are others that I know now… I could only have learned with time and experience. These reflections today are an endeavour to share with you what I know to be true and what could potentially propel you into becoming a better leader in whatever sphere of influence you occupy.

Since I am associated with so many companies, I often run into all sorts of managers and leaders. These are the people in whom, we as owners and shareholders, have placed the responsibility of steering our employees. While some stand out and excel in this role, there are many others whom we see struggling and/or making grave mistakes.

I will not get into the debate of whether those that are failing should continue to occupy those positions, what I will do is share with you the habits that for me – make compelling leadership.

I will begin with a quote from Lao Tzu, author and philosopher. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Although this quote sums up much of what leadership should be about, I also want to give a rider – leadership is situational. There are times when it will call for participative and democratic decision making. However, there are also situations that will require you to be autocratic.

Whatever the scenario, my first piece of advice is that you must go forth confidently. You must not let those that you seek to lead know that you are filled with self-doubt or that your knees are almost buckling under the weight of the decision. Bolster your knees with stakes if need be and then tackle the bull by its horns.

A great leader is also never afraid to take the heat for his/her people. Have you ever met a boss who when confronted with problems by the client or top honcho/board always looks for a scapegoat? He is like a mother who tosses her young ones to the hungry lions to satisfy their hunger. In my companies, I am always impressed by a manager who says to me, ‘I know we messed up; I am responsible because the buck stops with me. I will do A & B to rectify the situation.’ This person earns enough points in my book and in my view, is a more compelling leader than the former. If you cannot stomach the heat of your position, the best thing to do would be to resign amiably.

A compelling leader is also one who builds rather than tears down. It is his work to listen actively to his team, to make them question the status quo, to provide direction where required but most of all, to make them believe that they have the potential to deliver the desired results.

I always measure the success of a team leader by the success of the individual members of team. If they excel, it is because the person in leadership has challenged them – their skills and capabilities, and increased their threshold. It is also because he has exposed them to difficult conversations that require difficult decisions. It is because he has provided practical examples of how to do things – this is mentorship in action.

This last piece of advice, I learned the hard way.

If you are not careful as a leader, you will run into people that tell you what you want to hear or give you easy solutions to complex problems. Make sure you surround yourself with people that you can count on. This support system should care enough about you to give you blunt truth, to help you confront the actual facts and status, but to also open your eyes to different considerations. One must always have this form of checks and controls if you are to remain grounded.

This is certainly not the extent of the habits that make compelling leaders. It is an inexhaustible topic, and my desire today was to get us thinking about the sort of leaders we are, while it is still early enough in the year to make amends.

Most importantly, remember that once this influence is taken away from you, you may not be able to make a quick comeback that allows you to recover the ground and trust you lost. Know that you are dispensable and purpose to lead with grace and responsibility. In your leadership, aspire to leave a legacy that will build rather than destroy your future chances of success.

10 Replies to “What makes a compelling leader?”

  1. Thank you for the valuable piece of advice, I’ve gotten one nugget -that a great leader takes responsibility especially when there’s a mess. I was assigned a project at work that took several weeks but despite all the effort it turned messy, I admitted liability (even though there were valid ‘excuses’ like a shoe-string budget and external interferances). I was given a chance to redo the project and this time round it turned out excellent to the applause of my superiors. Blame game would have sent me packing. Thank you once more.

  2. This comes out as very practical and hands on -where the rubber meets the road.Thank you Bw.Chris for this mentor-ship.Most of us ,young and old alike,need this.

  3. The richness of the irony:

    Mr. Kirubi talking about sycophants “who tell you what you want to hear or give you easy solutions to complex problems”.


  4. Thank you BW Kirubi. This is what we call really mentorship……..advice coming from someone who has been there and done that….!

  5. Mr.Kirubi,you crippled many parastatls to become rich, you have no morals to lecture the youth on leadership and success. YOur success lacks transparency,accountability and integrity. And what’s with the new Dr. title. Where did you get your doctorate from? Furthermore you are a chieif-in-scophance

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