I regularly direct clients to watch the best Ted Talks so I was delighted recently to spot one I’d somehow missed: Rosalinde Torres talk on ‘What it takes to make a great leader’, a perennial question, huh? You’ll find the talk here https://www.ted.com/talks/roselinde_torres_what_it_takes_to_be_a_great_leader?language=en. Nearly 3 million people have watched it and for me, her message was nicely crystallised when she described the three questions her research has uncovered

In her talk Rosalinde talks about how the best leaders are focussed on three questions:

  1. Where are you looking to anticipate change?
  2. How diverse is your network?
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?


Q1. Where are you looking to anticipate change?

I’ve been working in leadership long enough to remember when ‘change management’ was a new and exciting topic and attracted genuine interest as well as fear. Nowadays change management is normal. Change is something that happens every day with every team. So, it makes sense for every leader to anticipate, prepare for and – where possible – to influence change. What does this mean for you? Are you:

  • Making time to connect with your own strategic thinking and ideas?
  • Spending time with people who have strategy strengths and who are energised by strategic thinking and exploration?
  • Having the right conversations with them and therefore investing the time wisely?

Great leaders see around corners, respond to any anticipated changes and seek to influence them.  Are you anticipating (inevitable!) change?

Q2. How diverse is your network?

It seems to be a natural instinct to feel drawn to ‘people like us’. People who share similar values, traits and background to us, who use similar language and mental models to us, people who look like, sound and even smell like us. So we recruit team members like us, we have colleagues and friends like us and we even read and watch leadership gurus who seem to share our take on the world.

But the challenge of this approach is so-called ‘group-think’ whereby everyone starts thinking similarly, where challenge is rare and ideas are … predictable.

Are you:

  • Developing collaborative relationships with people who are very different to you in their thinking, in their actions and even in how they look?
  • Listening – I mean really listening – for different ideas and perspectives? Or are you only hearing variations on your own theme?

Great leaders understand that diversity is a source of solutions, different thinking and creativity.

Q3. Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

The world renowned coach Marshall Goldsmith wrote a great book several years ago with a fabulous title, ‘What got you here won’t get you there’. In it he propounds the theory that most of us are promoted for our potential but once we’re promoted we stick to what we know. Or as Rosalinde Torres says, ‘Chances are you’ll keep doing what’s familiar’. Certainly one of my main challenges as a leadership coach is to enable leaders to let go of most of what they already know and do, hand it over to their direct reports and embrace their new role and challenges. Sometimes our performance anxiety can cause us to hang onto the old and resist the new!

Are you:

  • Letting go of your old responsibilities and favourite tasks?
  • Creating the space to enable yourself to think and plan for your current role?
  • Enabling your direct reports to outperform you in your old responsibilities and demonstrating their capability to succeed you in the future into your new role?

Too many leaders lack the courage to fully let go of their old responsibilities and embrace the new, scarier ones. Great leaders enable themselves and others to fully release their grip on the old and embrace the new.

Rosalinde Torres’ research has encouraged her to ask us to ask ourselves 3 great questions. They’re challenging questions and they’re the sort of questions that my clients bring to their coaching sessions. And the answers they labour over during and around our coaching sessions are what enable them to go on to lead themselves and others with great skill and insight. Rosalinde Torres says that the best of the best leaders are – today – preparing themselves for the realities of today and all of the unknown possibilities of tomorrow.

Are you?