Essential character traits of an inspirational leader


What makes Gulf Cement so successful? Or Etisalat the leading telecommunications company in the Middle East? Well there are several layers to that question, but the true driving force in every successful company is an inspirational leader. They are the ones who inspire you to give your utmost to the job at hand, to work that little bit harder and feel your efforts are appreciated and contribute to the company as a whole. But what makes a leader truly inspirational? And how can you become one? Here are six common traits to work on.

Patience – every day some new crisis occurs, events that send other people in the business into a tailspin: egos are dented, tempers frayed. But not the leader. The leader of the company has to have the ability to sit back and take a good look at the crisis and make decisions that are measured and able to bring about a good conclusion. This is where the practice of patience is necessary on a daily basis. If the leader becomes unravelled by bad news, the already unstable elements in the firm (and wider if the company is listed on a stock exchange) feed off that to make a bad situation even worse.

Passion – a good leader has a real passion for what they do, without passion they cannot fulfill their role as captain, steering the company towards success month after month, year after year. This passion rubs off on the people around them, inspiring them to aim higher and achieve more in their own roles.

Bravery – turning a company around, making bold decisions, being a risk taker without putting the company in danger – these are the brave actions an inspirational leader must do all the time. It’s not only the board they have to argue with to make lasting changes in a company, it’s also the employees who need to be persuaded that change won’t endanger their jobs, or create a culture they can no longer work under.

Kindness – The most successful leaders in business aren’t those who rely on bullying tactics to drive through their ambitions for the company. They are people who understand how to bring out the best in people to get the job done. However, they are not a soft touch .

Clear-headed – If someone, or something, in the company isn’t working to make the business a success, it has to be dealt with. Different leaders do this in different ways. An employee who isn’t doing well in one position may be more suited to another job in the company. Where a technical aspect, such as software, that isn’t performing as it should, a good leader evaluates the costs involved in changing it with the current supplier, or finding another supplier.

Decisive – Great leaders think carefully about decisions before implementing them. That way, there are no grey areas, no wishy-washy going back on decisions because they haven’t been thought through properly.


cat in tree

All alone at the top?

The adage ‘it’s lonely at the top’ is outmoded in today’s increasingly socially connected environment. To become a more successful leader, it’s now more important to understand the people you work with than to issue orders from the comfort of your spacious office looking out over the bustle of Dubai’s business districts.

Here are five key ways to becoming a better manager of people in your company.

Know what is needed from you

Not everyone has the same hopes and dreams in life. By listening to your team and understanding how they think and feel, a good leader can begin to see how better to motivate individuals to achieve a more high achieving unit.

Act how you want your team to act

For a team to be ethical in their dealings with each other and with customers, leaders have to show the way. If they see you acting against the company code of practice, your team will feel they have the right to do so as well. This creates a situation where, very quickly, the team disintegrates into cells pulling in different directions. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Think creatively

A company stagnates if it ignores new ideas and modes of working. Not only are successful leaders more creative thinkers, they include their team in developing innovate ways of doing business. This type of creativity isn’t the sole preserve of the marketing and R&D and should be encouraged throughout the company, from the accounts department to the operations management team.

Put succession on the agenda

Succession planning is important for two reasons:

  1. At some point a senior figure in your company will retire, suffer ill health, or leave the company to work elsewhere.
  2. Developing talent within the company is more cost effective than head-hunting outside the company.

If you are actively ensuring talented individuals in your company are groomed for succession, you will develop a long-term strategy to encourage employees to be more involved in the company’s success.

Be inclusive and give praise

‘What are your thoughts on this?’ should be a regular phrase in your dealings with your team. Great leaders always know when to throw open their ideas to others for comment. You may have overlooked something important, or someone may come up with an idea from their personal hobby that adds huge value to a new product line.

And always acknowledge the input of others. When your team knows their work or ideas are appreciated, they are more likely to speak up with other ideas. Even if the idea doesn’t go anywhere, thank people for chipping in all the same.

From simply knowing your operations officer eats at Ravi’s to understanding how a family get together at the weekend is going to affect your secretary’s performance the following week, getting a firm grip on the dynamics of your team is key to helping your team achieve the overall goals of the company.

There comes a time when you realise that people assume you might know what you are talking about. Respect? Or merely the fact that you are older so, the logic goes, you must have learnt something. History relates that so called more experienced (older) people can be every bit as stupid as others. They just have less excuse. In fact it became clear to me many years ago that my general ignorance was not, nor should be, a barrier to progressing along life’s random pathways as most other people were similarly uninformed.

However, I have along the way learnt a few “truths” that have helped me meander in a series of crab-like stages through what has worryingly become something resembling a career. I would pass these on to my children but they never listen to a word I say.

Rule 1 – Tour Guides: The Business Gurus.

If you work for a large company you will have to put up with much corporate guff; spurious mantras, tick box initiatives, and heartfelt claims to caring about customers. Of course, the more a corporate vision and such stuff is paraded you can be sure the less is understood about customer’s real feelings.

Tour guides however live the truth. When you stand up in front of a coach at 6.00am with 45 people on board expectantly looking at you to make their day wonderful, there is no escape. You can see it in their eyes, and your every action, smile, word is monitored and scrutinised. The mood is immediate and visceral. If anyone ever claims to you that they are an expert in the “Customer Experience” the likelihood is you should ignore them. Unless that is they have been a tour guide. Better still, be one yourself for a year and really understand the concept.

(Florida 1981, since you ask).

Rule 2 – Choose your boss wisely

You can’t choose your parents but you can choose your boss. Start with some home truths: Most are as ignorant as you. Most know this and are, therefore, even more scared. This leads to odd behaviour ranging widely from superficial over-confidence, alcoholism, to fearful inaction or aggressive control: Sometimes all of the above.

So when accepting a job or a new role, study carefully the person responsible for your career progression. Is there intelligence? Is there common understanding (empathy)? Does the person care (about the job, the customer, you)? Does the person appear to know what he/she is doing? If you get these attributes in a boss, then don’t let go without a fight.

There seems to be a myth that employers/bosses are in control of your life. Wrong, you are. If empathy and trust are missing, then it’s time to move on and attach yourself to a worthier recipient of your loyalty.

Remember, it’s only a job.

Rule 3 – Follow the DOPI Principle

Most strategies are guff. By which I mean worthless. In my experience companies / departments / functions chose a path for themselves built around their own hopes and dreams, and then assume that it will easily come to fruition just because they want it to happen. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The creation of a strategy should be ruthlessly objective based on information and an understanding of the market. If done this way the answers become more obvious and usually simple (even if not always popular). Once decided upon, then most organisations under-assume (if that’s a word) the sheer commitment, time, energy and bloody-mindedness needed to make it happen. So, instead of emotional decision making and laid back implementation, think Decisions Objective Passionate Implementation. Obvious really, but rare in my experience. (This can be applied to your career by the way)

Rule 4 – Experience is not important

When recruiting someone don’t over-rate experience when analysing the potential talent pool. In simple terms all that matters is intelligence and attitude. A bright person with the right approach to life will adapt and pick up what’s needed in short order. An experienced muppet will be an experienced muppet for a very long time.

To make these decisions requires instinct and empathy – not the usual ridiculous questions HR people tell you to ask. Find out about the real person.

(Of course you have to ask the pro forma questions otherwise you will be accused of not taking the process seriously – just as long as you know what really matters). Naturally, all the above requires you to be a good boss not a fatuous one (see Rule 2).

Rule 5 – Be a Confronting Person

To confront an issue in the workplace is almost always a good thing, whereas to be confrontational is almost always bad. (There may be a few occasions where being confrontational is justified, but like many Victorian rules of grammar the general truth holds good).

In too many company situations where decisive thought and deed are needed, there is a tendency to stay quiet, to avoid argument, to skirt around a problem or, even worse, to ignore it. Often, this culture will exist in authoritarian regimes, which are always bad things (whether it be a company, a sports team or a totalitarian state), and where fear is often endemic. This is not to be confused with autocratic behaviour which is of course something entirely different and often a good thing.

Be brave: confront issues, get them into the open, solve them, and make a difference.

Rule 6 – Be Lucky

The Holy Grail. All lives are subsumed, to a certain extent by a measure of luck or indeed bad luck.

A friend of mine used to crash his motorbike on frequent occasions, often returning home from the pub. (This was a long time ago and we were younger). One night, as we sat in the public bar of the Rose & Crown, Gt Horkesley he turned and said in all sincerity “David, I have crashed so often it must be bad luck”. Quite.

One thing is for sure: to be lucky you have to put yourself in situations where luck will strike. It isn’t of course an infallible rule but in my experience it holds a fair degree of truth. Get out there; make things happen, Carpe Diem. Good fortune rarely comes to those who merely sit and wait.

Rule 7 – Choose your Heroes Wisely

Identifying people you admire and analysing why can go a long way to understanding your own motives and aspirations. Because we are all different we will all choose differing and diverging role models. So, choose and analyse your own. By way of interest however here are a few of mine:

Don Quixote; because tilting at windmills is always to be admired and, indeed, emulated.

Admiral ‘Jacky’ Fisher; who challenged sacred cows and entrenched behaviour, and was revered by his men.

General Patten; who is generally attributed the maxim “have a plan, execute it violently, do it now”. Quite so.

In conclusion then, there is of course only one infallible rule to life: namely, “There are no rules to life”. Enjoy it.

David Kneeshaw – Chief Executive, Royal London 360° – 2008 – present. David Kneeshaw has served as the Chief Executive of Royal London’s international business since 2003. He joined the Royal London Group in 2002 as a Group Business Development Director from and then the chief executive of SLI from 2004 to 2008. A law graduate, he began his career in media, working for Times Newspapers and for London-based advertising agencies before joining Swiss Life in 1992 as director of personal finance. Mr. Kneeshaw has served as the chairman of the Isle of Man Insurance Association since 2012.

Too often rigidly sticking to a business strategy is a sure fire way to steer a company away from the very goal it believes it’s aiming at. Creating a successful business plan is more than just jotting down where you want to be in five years. It takes a great deal of patience, number crunching and talks with your business partners, key personnel, and your customers.

Understand your competition

Ignore your competition at your peril. In a fiercely competitive market place you cannot ignore what other businesses are doing. Keep an eye on their achievements, new product launches, and how customers and end consumers react. This will give you much needed guidance on how you can perform better.

Aim to be the best

Being the best is tough. It takes a lot more late nights and early wake up calls, but if you truly want your business to be successful you have to aim high. By creating a high standard for your business you are more likely to succeed.

Do the math

Check and re-check every forecast. If you have been relying on industry reports published by other organisations, check their facts and figures are right too. It’s the lazy option to just accept every number that comes into your in tray. If you don’t have the skills in-house to do this job effectively, hire in an expert to help you prepare the numbers that you are basing your whole business strategy on.

Grab some face-to-face

Email, Skype, text, phone calls – they’re all very good for keeping track, but they should be supporting face-to-face meetings. Regular meetings with your staff, important investors, industry advisors and your key customers (although not necessarily all at the same time) is a more effective way to keep everyone training their thoughts on the business goal.

Be flexible

wind shaped trees

Knowing which way the wind is blowing is vital for your ready to adapt !

Flexibility is a vital component of any strategic business plan. You need to be able to act quickly to new ideas, without losing sight of what is already working, and where you ultimately want your Dubai business to be. Give yourself room to change branding designs, ingredients in products or the type of benefits you are offering to stay ahead of the competition.

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow

There are times when you need to push yourself and your team really hard to get products or services out into the marketplace in time to beat off the competition. But there are also times when you need to sit back and analyse what has happened and how it fits into the business strategy. You have to differentiate between the times you are working flat out successfully, or just grinding everyone down needlessly.

Know your customers

Focus groups, long business lunches, trying it out on your friends and family – you have to know who your customer is and what they really want. Are you expending huge amounts of effort on a product that nobody actually wants to buy? Have you asked yourself that question yet? Most businesses do ask it of themselves all the time, but you need to test, test, and test some more to create the absolute best product in your industry.

Revise your plan

Every business plan needs revising. When new information comes in, when the number crunchers turn up some unpleasant or if you’re lucky, some welcome surprises. Keep your business strategy close to hand so you can easily revise different parts of it as you go along.

A business should be organic, changing continually because you are shaping it to be as successful as possible. Invest some time and energy into creating a really robust business strategy that will grow as your company grows.







The success or failure of a department in a company most often lies in the hands of the manager. And wherever in the world you are, the processes to becoming an inspiring manager in Dubai, New York or Delhi don’t vary a great deal.

Pied Piper

Are you the kind of leader that people want to follow?

Some people seem to be innately inspirational; their personality boosts those around them to give that little bit extra on every job. Yet the basics of bringing out the best in those around you can be learned. But they also have to be put into practice.


To build an atmosphere of trust in your team, you need to show your team loyalty. This means not pulling someone up in front of everyone, but taking them to one side and talking to them honestly. And if you receive praise for a project, remember to pass on that praise to the team.

If your team has succeeded in brining in a big order, celebrate. And invite everyone in who helped in the success. By acknowledging individual efforts in a joint success, you’ll inspire everyone to achieve as much on the next task.

Put in the hours

If you turn up for meetings late, don’t get reports in on time and generally show a distinct lack of interest… so will your team. A really great manager leads by example, so if want to inspire your team, put the hours in. Make sure your reports are ready when you say they will be, turn up early for meetings so you can talk to the team before the real meeting begins.

A leader who gets 100% from their team is one who puts in 100% themselves.

Set goals

Don’t be satisfied by mediocrity, aim high and put in the hours yourself to see the project through.

By showing your own commitment to a project, your team will begin to feel (especially if you have built a loyal environment) that they too can put in a little extra to reach the goal.

When you have your goal, work out the steps necessary to reach it and tell everyone what their role is in achieving that goal. Giving people ownership of part of the process will boost their confidence.

Be there for your team

And once you’ve set those goals, given people responsibility over the process, don’t just leave them too it. Be there when they need help, make asking for advice a good thing in your office, not an admission of failure. Putting out a task and keeping your door open, answering emails and arranging regular meetings to see how people are doing not only gets the job done more effectively, it shows your team you are interested, involved and ready to help where needed.

Invest in people

Developing skills in your workforce shows a real commitment to their career. Some companies may feel that it is a waste of money putting staff on courses, especially if they can hire someone with those skills already. But, by using the staff you have and investing in them, you are building trust and loyalty. Sure, it’s possible the new person knows a lot about a certain area, but do they know the customers as well as the guy you fired? Probably not. By putting someone in house on a course, you are building a much stronger team.

Being an inspiring leader takes effort, but when you are running a business, that effort is essential in creating a successful company.

Managers who don’t delegate put their personal success in jeopardy as much as they do their company’s success. Delegation is an essential productivity skill that should be embraced by leaders at every level of your company in Dubai. Delegate outcomes and not just tasks for business growth.

But because not everyone is comfortable with the thought of delegating responsibility out to their team, here are five simple tips on how to take the plunge.

dilbert delegation

Delegation the Dilbert way.

Plan ahead

This is true for those who are experienced at delegating, as well as newbies to the business of getting others to work on a project with you. Before you get everyone around the table, think about what the end goal is, how best to get there, and who best to employ in different aspects of the project.

Pick the team for the project

Avoid the temptation to work only with people you get on well with in the office. Look carefully at everyone’s abilities and see who is best placed to work on each project based on those abilities. You’ll find some people are more adept at planning, others more creative. Discovering people’s core skills will make the team better and, by extension, should improve the quality of the project as a whole.

Have regular meetings

Unless there is an exceptionally tight deadline that demands daily meetings, a weekly catch up will keep you up to date with all aspects of the project. These meetings also provide a space for people to ask you questions, especially during the early stages of a project when your team will be looking to you to outline their roles.

Have a clear goal

From the outset, make sure everyone on the team knows what the goal is of the project. Even on a small one, or with someone who has a quite minor role, if everyone knows how their contribution helps to achieve the goal, they will have a greater sense of involvement in the process.

Reward good progress

As important as regular meetings, is the acknowledgement that someone has done well. Recognising and praising individuals during a project keeps morale up and ensures that people don’t start to feel that their hard work is not being seen. A simple ‘thank you, you’re doing a great job.’ can be a very effective way to motivate your team, especially when they’ve been putting in extra hours to keep the project on course.

When you are used to making all the decisions and auctioning everything, letting go and allowing others to have a hand in your projects isn’t necessarily easily. Yet as projects become larger, it becomes impossible for one person alone to control every aspect of it. And, it won’t help the project progress either.

For those unused to delegating, it is best to start small. Find a short project and apply the five simple steps outlined to begin your journey into delegating.

Once you’ve done it on a small project, you can start applying it to the larger ones. You’ll not only be helping your company grow in Dubai, but you’ll experience how delegating tasks can make you a better leader.

Often we can easily say who the best leader in our organisation is. But it’s harder to figure out what makes, for example, the head of your marketing team in Dubai a great leader. There are some common traits that will help you on your path to becoming a better leader in your company.

Best example

People in your organisation will look up to you simple based on the fact that you are their manager/boss/team leader. They will look to you, emulate you and make decisions based on their perceptions of you. Remember at all times that your behaviours will impact on how your employees behave. If you are regularly late to meetings, people see that as a signal that the meetings you have with them are not important. Consequently, the care and attention they give to a project will diminish.

Have passion

Having a true love of your business is inspiring for your employees. Really great leaders can instil their own passion into a particular project, or for the company as a whole. Passion is contagious; others feel it and will live it through their daily actions at work. It is an emotion that can change the course of a business from being mediocre to being brilliant.

And be compassionate

There is, in some business cultures, a feeling that being harsh, singling out certain people for public criticism will motivate other employees to do better. This is not the case. Everyone makes mistakes, and as a leader it is your job to show how we learn from mistakes. It is also your job to find someone a role they are more suited to, if they make mistakes too often.


If you make a decision, those around you are going to use that as the starting point for their jobs. To change your mind constantly creates the uneasy feeling that you really don’t know what you are doing. Ensure your decision is the right one before giving it to your team. The less often a decision is changed, the more confidence your team will have in you.

360 Reviews

mirror reflection

Can you take a honest look at your leadership ?

Don’t be afraid of giving yourself a 360 review. It’s a really good way of learning how your boss, your peers and those who work under you perceive you. If what you learn doesn’t tally with how you perceive yourself, resist the urge to go on the defensive. Are there qualities you can change to become a better leader?

Build a great team

Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who you know are good at their jobs. A team full of great minds will build great products, services, and campaigns.

Give praise

Create a culture of reward for a job well done. The people who work with you should be proud of being part of your team, and praise and rewards helps people feel that pride in their work.


Many people aspire to becoming a manager, or project leader, and by considering your actions and behaviours, you not only help your marketing team become more effective, but the knock-on effect will be a more successful business in Dubai.





How do you become a great leader? Well, first of all becoming a leader doesn’t suit everyone. Some people are great innovators, brilliant managers or excellent at hiring the right people. But, if you feel that leadership is the role you want, here are five traits to work on. They work for business leaders all over the world, whether they are selling a cup cake franchise in Boston, or rivets in Dubai, leadership characteristics are universal.

yoga in dubai

Yoga might not be your thing but you have to admire their 5.30 am start in Zabeel Park

Have a Clear Focus

Every morning a leader wakes up knowing the prime business focus of the day. Without a clear objective from the top, members of the team would have difficulty keeping on track with a project.

One tried and trusted method for keeping yourself focused is to get up a bit earlier than you normally do and thinking about where you need to be by the end of the day.

Adapt and Change

It sounds counter-intuitive, but without the ability to use the changes in the world around you, a business will have difficulty keeping the momentum going. The world changes rapidly. This is nothing new, but there are game changing moments in every industry. Social media is a prime example of this. Those who thought it was just fad have missed out on the early years learning how it might work for their company.

This doesn’t mean you chop and change your main ideas constantly; nothing would get out into the world if you did, but you have to use the changes around you to your advantage.

Make Difficult Decisions

If there’s one point where leader really shines, it’s making the difficult decisions that nobody else can, or should be making. This can be whether to ditch a project that has been in development for over six months, or understanding whether a particular sales model is working for your company.

A leader also understands that to make their team outstanding, it has to have the right people. Knowing when to let someone go is one thing, putting it into practice is where a true leader stands out. Done in the right way it will make the team stronger, done badly and the whole team might feel insecure and wonder who is next.

Have Courage

There are different types of courage in business life. It’s one thing to show off your driving skills during a wadi bashing team building exercise, but quite another thing to confront difficult issues within your company or team.

If you recognise there is a problem nobody else is facing up to, this is where the real courage comes into play…figuring out how to address the problem to get the outcome you know your company needs.

Keep Learning

An inspiring story will help you understand how other leaders became who they are, and as a consequence, help you become a better leader. Take a good look around the Kindle store, chat to your local bookshop owner, talk to your business colleagues, family and friends. Every one of them will have their own favourite book. And don’t confine yourself to the business shelves, read biographies on your favourite sporting hero or fashion designer, look beyond the business rack and delve into arts, film, even the hobby aisle. Go on courses run by inspirational people who will open your mind to new possibilities.

Without learning from the success and failures of people we know personally, or admire from a distance, we cannot develop the full range of abilities needed to become a really good leader. To develop learning cultures within your own organisation that will sustain business in the future , a leader needs to model and adopt lifelong learning practices themselves.

The leadership courses run by the Institute of Sales and Marketing in Dubai are in high demand because they help companies develop effective leadership principles. Please go to for more details on the next course available.

In the October Issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine Zenger, Folkman and Edinger (2011) describe a path for executives to take to enhance their leadership strengths using a cross-training approach. Leadership key competencies were paired with competency companions and when these companions were addressed the strength became more distinct to the employer pushing executives closer to the tipping point they needed for promotion into a leadership role. They argue that a single extraordinary strength can elevate you from the bottom third of leaders whilst two distinct strengths will put you in the top third of candidates.

In the cross-training approach strengths should be identified and selection of strength to focus on quantitatively made. This is based on your skills, the importance of that strength to the organisation and the passion you feel for it (do you actively and happily seek knowledge in this area outside your defined job role?). A complimentary behaviour to strengthen is then chosen to work on. Their example executive’s selected personal strength was ‘inspires and motivates others’, a recognised leadership quality. From a list of competency companions which included ‘develops others’ and ‘nurtures innovation’, he chooses to work on ‘communicates powerfully and broadly’. This skill was also important to his organisation and if he successfully masters it could emphasise his strength, namely ‘to inspire and motivate others’.

Queen Rania

21st Century leaders must be inspirational

Whilst leaders should leverage their strengths it also behoves them to recognise and eliminate their weaknesses. Leaders that do not recognise their weaknesses are often dictatorial and egotistic, the type of leader that rules by authority and rank instead of knowledge, integrity,influence or charisma. Are you scrutinising your leadership skills and working on them?

“Leadership is not magnetic personality — that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ — that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” –Peter F. Drucker


Zenger, J.H., Folkman, J.R., & Edinger, S.K. (2011, October). Making Yourself Indispensable. Harvard Business Review Magazine. Retrieved 4th October, 2011 from