Guest Judge Comments:

Many individuals and organisations have deliberated on the key traits of exceptional leaders for countless years. So the assignment was challenging given the multitude of traits that could have been discussed.  I appreciated how the writer focused specifically on just three core traits: challenging dogmas, driving change, and committing to fairness.  This essay stood out by how the writer incorporated a mix of a historically known innovator, the spouse of a former US president, and a literary reference to successfully illustrate the importance of these three leadership attributes.  The third trait in particular, commitment to fairness, especially resonated with me as it highlighted how responsible leadership and an inclusive culture can foster innovation and financial prosperity. This perspective again distinguishes this essay from others and showcases a quality that I believe all future leaders should embrace.

Arnold “Arnie” Longboy, Executive Director in Student Recruitment and Admissions at London Business School (LBS). He has worked among the top business schools in the world and is currently Executive Director of the Recruitment & Admissions Team at London Business School. He has served on multiple Business Education Boards and is currently Board Chair of the Executive MBA Council.

Can you tell us about your essay-writing process?

“My passion for literature and the written word has been a constant in my life. I decided that regardless of whether or not I won a scholarship through the essay competition, putting my skills to the test would allow me to see what I am capable of – essentially a win-win situation. I received multiple booklets and was able to access video archives and essays written by past scholarship winners which allowed me to craft and perfect both my essay and my references.”

The Winning Essay:
What Do All Great Leaders Have in Common?

Leaders are responsible for wielding a substantial amount of power in guiding organisations and individuals to success. Exceptional leaders universally embody three core traits: the adeptness to challenge dogmas, the conviction to drive change, and an unequivocal commitment to fairness.

Analysing the potent influence of historical and modern leadership exemplified by eminent figures such as visionary Henry Ford1, contemporary humanitarian Rosalynn Carter, and the allegorical wisdom of George Orwell’s Animal Farm provides invaluable insights into the mastery of effective business management.

All great leaders challenge established beliefs to craft a compelling vision. This is epitomised by Ford’s vision for Ford Motor Company, where his innovative acumen and deviation from the status quo, like streamlining production, revolutionised the automotive industry.1 It is essential to acknowledge that scepticism and criticism may arise when leaders challenge dogmas, potentially destabilising organisations. This necessitates instilling visions with values, behaviours, and objectives which galvanise collective efforts in achieving goals, driving businesses to success.

Ford conveyed these elements through leading by example, demonstrating the potential of his prospective vision. Effective leaders encourage innovation through prioritising autonomy over directives, enhancing morale, efficiency, and business competitiveness.2 This ethos resonates with Peter Senge’s Learning Organisation theory, particularly the third discipline of ‘shared vision’, which dismantles myopic viewpoints fostering unified direction within organisations.3

Initiating change is paramount for navigating dynamic work environments. A proactive stance enables leaders to leverage challenges and opportunities through preemptive planning and risk management. The complexities of implementing change, as astutely noted by former US First Lady Carter, manifest in the adage “a leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they do not necessarily want to go but ought to be.”4 Exemplary leaders understand that adhering to a linear trajectory often breeds resistance against paradigm shifts.5

This phenomenon, known as organisational inertia, intensifies as establishments mature, wherein the comfort of familiarity frequently clashes with the necessity of change. This resistance is overcome by ardently communicating changes in alignment with their overarching vision and incorporating feedback from stakeholders, yielding transformative outcomes for both businesses and individuals.

Paradoxically, the pursuit of fairness can undermine its own foundations. This complex interplay is depicted in Orwell’s Animal Farm, wherein pseudo-transformational leader Napoleon illustrates the corrosive influence of leadership with malignant intent.6 This underscores the potential for fairness to be subverted for ulterior motives, resulting in unethical business practices. This can provoke legal liabilities, financial losses, and reputational damage. Research conducted by The Boston Consulting Group involving 1700 companies attests to equity catalysing sustained progress. It reveals that organisations with above-average diversity generated 45% of their revenue from recent innovations compared to 26% for those with below-average diversity.7 Evidently, through responsible leadership and fostering an inclusive corporate culture, astute leaders create an environment that attracts diverse skills and perspectives, promoting innovation and financial prosperity.8

Within business management, all great leaders, regardless of position, foster symbiotic relationships with their followers, recognising that success is underpinned by collaborative efforts. Astute leaders challenge conventional beliefs akin to Ford1; implement change as articulated by Carter4; and uphold fairness as underscored by Orwell’s exploration of power misuse.6 Ultimately, as evident from past and present luminaries, these ubiquitous qualities not only shape the present but determine the state of the world that future generations will inherit.”

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