Great leaders have an innate ability to make people feel strong rather than weak.

By understanding their employees and what is driving them. Making an effort to understand their needs and their reasons for being engaged. And realising that their people may have different drivers than they themselves have. If “Humble Enquiry” as explained by Edgar H. Schein is too challenging or too time consuming then listening to HR and others can provide the route to this understanding. By seeking to create the conditions within which people feel energised and motivated, they can make people more powerful and productive.

By supporting their employees’ ideas and plans with a coaching mind-set in a visible way. Great leaders choose a way to challenge that is constructive and not destructive. I recently saw a strong capable business leader listen to twenty of his executive team talk about their views on their business with great insight, passion and commitment. Yet this leader’s first response was to say “This is OK, BUT I’m missing something……” he then went on to effectively ignore everything his team had said and set out what he saw as the issues. It was a classic example of a leader who makes people feel weak. A more supportive way of approaching this might have been to say “This is a very good analysis and I am very happy to see the important business points you have raised. What else may be valuable for our business going forward?” The leader reaffirms the thinking and work of the direct reports and yet challenges them to think further.

By acting as they want their people to act. Whether it is in making key decisions, collaborating with colleagues, or interacting effectively with customers, they role model the behaviour and language that will enable their people to be most effective.

By creating the right company culture. Great leaders understand what the current culture is including both what works well and what may not be supporting productivity and business success. HR can be a very good resource in helping to do this. Be clear about what is important to keep and what is important to change and be consequent in your own behaviour so your people do not get a mixed or confusing message.

Don’t fall into the trap, I have witnessed, of being led by ego and feeling it necessary to demonstrate how much smarter you are by dominating proceedings or indulging in excessively harsh and negative criticism. This is very likely to be counterproductive to creating a psychologically safe and collaborative environment for people to feel strong and apply themselves fully.  Making people feel empowered and strong is the essence of great leadership.

How do you create the conditions for your people feeling strong?

To find out more about how to equip your support teams with this key Business Partner behaviour and skill set contact Gerry Buckley on


About the Author

Mark Thomas: Leading International Expert on Business Partnering

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas is an international business consultant, author and speaker specialising in business planning, managing change, human resource management and executive development. Prior to working with PPI he worked for several years with Price Waterhouse in London where he advised on the business and organisational change issues arising out of strategic reviews in both private and public sector organisations.