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What Makes a Great Leader?

Strong leadership is vital in any walk of life. We asked a selection of our leading speakers what makes a great leader drawing on their own unique experiences from their remarkable careers.

Benny Lawrence
12 Jul 2023

What Makes a Great Leader?

Strong leadership is vital in any walk of life, from business to sport to politics, any organisation requires leaders that can steer them to success and navigate uncertainty. We asked a selection of our leading speakers what makes a great leader drawing on their own unique experiences from their remarkable careers.


Sam Warburton:

Sam Warburton Headshot

Former British & Irish Lions and Wales captain, Sam Warburton said:

“My leadership journey started very young so it was a steep learning curve. I thought leadership meant I needed to have all the answers when in fact it doesn’t. It requires you to put strong people in place on areas where you are weak, and inspiring though vision and by how you make people feel. Rugby at the top level is a tough place to learn, when often, mistakes are made in front of millions of people. Through years of continuous learning and reflection, the art of leadership has many styles, but rely on very similar pillars.”


Sir Clive Woodward:

Sir Clive Woodward Headshot

Rugby World Cup winning coach, Sir Clive Woodward said:

“Early on my career I thought Leadership was about having to come up with all the ideas. Over time I’ve realised that as a Leader I don’t think I am very good at coming up with new ideas. Leadership is about listening, being able to recognise what a good idea is and then the Leaders role is about putting the best ideas into action.  As a leader you don’t have to have all the ideas but you do need to be curious. Never stop learning. You want everyone in your team or organisations to be sponges and relentless learners, but this must start at the top. The moment you stop learning I think you will come second at best.


Edwina Currie:

Edwina Currie Headshot

Prominent former MP, writer and broadcaster, Edwina Currie said:

“A great leader… can be male or female, tall or short, old or young, any ethnicity you care to name.
They can be experienced (it helps) or new to the game – think Zelensky of Ukraine.
But they must have a quick mind, a compassionate heart, a shrewd outlook and high emotional intelligence.
Then they can evaluate a situation quickly, see the choices, and quickly make the right one.
They explain and persuade, rather than brutally pushing through change – but they can be ruthless when necessary.
They cope with failure by learning from it, and sharing the lessons.
They cope with success with modesty and giving credit to others. They help train up successors without jealousy or rancour.
And … they have a lot of luck.”


Jason Leonard OBE:

Jason Leonard Headshot

England Rugby World Cup winning legend, Jason Leonard OBE said:

“A great leader is someone who has a clear intent, direction & purpose for their team. The secret of their success will always be to lead by example and work to bring out the best in alll individuals.”



Sir Ranulph Fiennes:

SIr Ranulph Fiennes Headshot

Legendary and iconic explorer, adventurer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes said:

“To be honest there is only one true answer in my opinion all subsidiary reasons fit under this heading which is:

DNA makes for a great leader in some subsequent descendants. Otherwise words like intelligence and determination are very important.”


Jo Fairley:

Jo Fairley Headshot

Founder of Green & Black’s Chocolate and renowned keynote speaker, Jo Fairley said:

“What makes a great leader? Being decisive – and sticking to decisions, so everyone on a team knows where they stand. Making sure that everyone on a team knows what the values of the company are, and living by them herself/himself.  Taking enough time away from the day-to-day of the business to look at it from afar and see what can be done differently, and better, to drive the organisation forward. And keeping a sense of humour at all times – because that’s how you lead with a light touch and make people want to get out of bed to come to work. (I have a simple rule: 80% work, 20% fun.)”


Mike Bates:

Mike Bates Headshot

Human intelligence specialist, covert counter-terrorism operations leader, entrepreneur and adventurer, Mike Bates said:

“Good leaders are everywhere.  Truly great leaders are hard to find.  The great leaders I’ve had the privilege to work with on the battlefield and at war, in the aftermath and chaos of terrorist attacks and in business all had what I refer to as the 3 C’s:
Courage – To take tough decisions, set direction and to lead their people with integrity 
Clarity – In their communication and the delivery of a shared mission and values
Credibility – Through their actions, their authenticity and their unwavering commitment to those they lead”


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