Leadership isn’t just about the inspirational and visionary CEO. To the person on the front line, their manager is the leader, exemplifying what the company is all about. Therefore, organisations must create leaders at all levels, starting with those who directly influence the most people, which, for many, will be the marzipan middle management layer.

Leadership in the 21st Century

Today’s leader must be able to work collaboratively and be less accountable for personal contribution. Leadership is less a position of power and status and more about getting the job done. People, therefore, need to acquire and utilise strong leadership traits to make a difference and have impact.

According to ‘The Millennial Leadership Study’ (Virtuali/Workplace Trends), while millennials aspire to lead, they define this leadership as “empowering others to succeed”. When asked what their biggest motivator was to be a leader, 43 per cent said “empowering others”, while only 5 per cent said money and 1 per cent said power. When asked about the type of leader they aspire to be, 63 per cent chose “transformational”, which means they seek to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement.

Great leadership breeds great leadership. Business owners and senior people in companies need to make sure they are exemplifying the company culture and displaying role model behaviours, as well as excellent leadership qualities, to ensure their managers – and the managers of the future – understand and exert what the company needs. Weak managers used to be able to hide behind their status. Now that information flow is freer, expectations are higher and people aren’t going to ‘put up and shut up’. They expect, and have a right to, decent leadership. They will demand it if they don’t receive it, or the good people will simply leave.

What makes a great leader will, of course, vary from organisation to organisation; culture to culture, which is why organisations need to define their core leadership principles. This can be achieved by adopting the same processes used for defining and embedding values. Leadership principles will then form a basis for development, assessment and review.

With this in mind, sending people on standard leadership programmes is not always the best use of investment. Of course, leaders need basic skills such as communication, organisation and planning, decision making, proactivity and so on. However, they need to know how it is done in their particular organisations, not other peoples, and to work out how they’ll deliver on that.

There are many ways to acquire these skills from mentoring to self-study. So, while classroom training shouldn’t be completely discarded, organisations need to ensure it is facilitated, tailored and involves real business issues. Those days of ‘sheep-dipping’ everyone in the same sessions are well and truly gone. The most important thing is that leaders in the making must have access to this development on the way up – once they’re there it’s too late!

How leaders impact health and wealth

Leaders, whether they like it or not, are responsible for health and wellbeing and they can influence a person’s wealth by the decisions they take and the support they give (or not). Any organisation that wants to be a great place to work will have embraced health and wellbeing wholeheartedly. Employees will expect it as a ‘given’. However, as we do live in complex and uncertain times, it’s not unknown for the budget in this area to be given diminishing priority.

Benefits of taking health and wellbeing seriously include employee engagement and retention; high motivation and productivity; employee satisfaction; creativity and innovation; reduced absenteeism and less time lost on dealing with conflict.

Assuming the business has all the statutory health and safety requirements fully up-to-date, it’s important to note that the value of the ‘nice to haves’, such as cool office décor and fun stuff, will be lost if the company is failing to put in place basic building blocks, such as treating people fairly and transparently. Organisations must consider some of the following:

  •  General focus on, and promotion of, wellbeing;
  •  True equality;
  • Support and empathy;
  • Respect;
  • Trust;
  • Shared values
  • Consultation;
  • Fair treatment;
  • Positive environment;
  • A safe and well-run place to work;
  • Good leadership;
  • Attendance culture; and
  • Healthy CSR.


With team members who are able to:

  • Drive their own progress;
  • Feel in control over their own role;
  • Benefit society;
  • Fulfil both personal and work goals;
  • Be healthy and energetic; and
  • Understand how they fit into the big picture.


There’s also an increased focus on the employer ensuring employees are financially secure and knowledgeable. For example, making financial and pensions advice available to help employees safeguard their financial futures, rather than just handing people their pay slips and assuming they understand how best to use their incomes. Providing advice on how best to manage personal finances and debt management is especially important in light of the advent of payday loan companies, some of which charge interest rates of over 1500 per cent plus fees.

The behaviours of managers, leaders, employees and the organisation as a whole, need to show that they’re fully on board with a ‘wellbeing’ culture or the business may as well not make the effort in the first place. Ultimately, leaders and managers need to ‘walk the talk’.





Following a successful corporate career, Jane spent a number of years as Managing Director of a specialist recruitment company, which she co-founded. Having realised that if someone could help companies to become a great place to work, there wouldn’t be such a crisis over ‘the talent war’. In September 2001, she formed learnpurple which, in line with expansion, rebranded as Purple Cubed, early in 2013.
Jane is a published, best-selling author having written 'Purple your People: the secrets to inspired, happy, more profitable people' (Crimson) in 2001, following up with ‘It's Never OK to Kiss The Interviewer - and other secrets to surviving, thriving and high-fiving at work' (LID) in 2013. In 2014 she was chosen from over 1600 authors to contribute to '20/20 – 20 great lists by 20 outstanding business thinkers’. Her latest book ‘The People Formula: 12 steps to productive, profitable, performing business’ (Humm Publishing) was release in April 2016; answering Deloitte’s calls for a new HR playbook. Jane’s writing is practical and common sense with stories and examples that clearly show how various tools and techniques can be applied to achieve results.
In addition to writing and acting as Purple Cubed’s chairman, Jane is a non-executive director and has been instrumental in the success of several high profile employment projects. She is the current president of HR in Hospitality, a panel member of the Economist Intelligence Unit, a visiting fellow at two UK Universities and is listed as one of the top 100 most influential women in the hospitality, travel, tourism and transport sectors.