How to achieve your business leadership aspirations

By Pamela Odukoya, Toastmasters International

Early in my career I experienced autocratic leadership.  A style of leadership that left me and other colleagues feeling anxious and demotivated.  This experience delayed my first step into leadership as I did not appreciate this style.

Over time, I came to realise that leadership styles can vary significantly. Through a period of reflection, research and self-analysis, I gained a greater appreciation of my own diverse skills, experience and values. More importantly, I gained a new understanding of the different leadership styles and self-analysis helped me to discover my preferences.

Let me share some tips based on my years of experience, to help you as you develop your leadership competencies and your leadership style.

Build your knowledge

To help aspiring leader to develop I recommend these online resources as starting points.

  • Future Learn:
  • The Chartered Management institute: 
  • Consider reading ‘What Got You here, Won’t get You There’ by Marshall Goldsmith. It provides some insight into the leadership behaviours that you might need to adopt.

Develop your experience

To get some experience of leadership at senior level, I suggest you consider applying for a trustee role in a charitable organisation. You’ll be part of a board and will have legal responsibility for the management and administration of the charity. You can explore the role of a trustee here:

You could also look into taking a leadership role in a volunteering organisation or professional association.

Understand your team

Successful leaders inspire people to work towards and achieve goals. Developing productive working relations is an absolute must. Time invested in understanding the personalities, values and aspirations of team members by listening and engaging with them is well spent.

Each person has their unique values, beliefs and aspirations. Therefore, I seek to gain an understanding through formal and informal meetings, listening actively to their story. Though this process can be time consuming, the benefits are immense. It helps me gain trust and create a safe working environment which can enhance their performance and productivity.

The development of potential

Apart from regularly assessing my team’s training needs, it’s important to be find creative ways to motivate and stretch my team, so they achieve their potential. In one of my leadership roles, I created mini projects for team members which gave them the opportunity to work at a different level and influence change. In the process, they developed new capabilities and greater confidence to engage with a wider group of stakeholders.

Show your appreciation

Many leadership writers agree on the benefits of showing appreciation, as it has a positive impact on individual and team performance and wellbeing. This is echoed by many theorists such as Frederick Herzberg in his ‘Theory of Motivation’ and Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.

Some of the ways I have showed recognition to my team include simply saying “Thank You”, announcement at team meetings, communication via team correspondence and of course the power of a chocolate cake on a Friday afternoon. You can also consider tangible forms of recognition such as certificates or awards, as well as monetary gifts.

I have learnt that some team members prefer private recognition rather than public recognition. Therefore, I apply the Platinum Rule, which basically says,”Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” I follow this rule by tailoring how I treat people to respect their preferences.

When showing recognition, it is important that you are fair and consistent otherwise it can be deemed as a form of discrimination, and this can affect the team’s morale.

Another aspect relates to how you recognise your team at external meetings. Do you just focus on the metrics? Do you just single out the top performer? Have you spelt every one’s name correctly? These behaviours can be harmful because they impact on the team member’s status within the team. Always create an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging.

Useful next steps

  • Start by reflecting on your current skills and attributes. Some might be linked to leadership competencies. For instance, if you enjoy organising events for your friends and family, think about how you can take your organisational skills to the next level. Sound organisational skills can be linked to leadership competencies such as collaboration and teamwork.   
  • Reflect on examples of poor leadership styles you may have experienced. What do you think these leaders could have done differently?
  • Read autobiographies of exceptional leaders, for example, those of Nelson Mandela and Brian Tracy.
  • Apply to a volunteering organisation for a leadership position.


Pamela Odukoya is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

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