Lessons in Leadership with Tony Steels

Tony Steels, former CEO of AIM-listed MPAC PLC has held Senior UK and International leadership positions and has over 30 years of industrial leadership and management experience.

As he moves into a more NED-focused phase of his career he shares with us some of his insights into what makes an effective leader.

What values are more important to you as a leader? 

“Integrity and authenticity would be the two primary values that I would say have underpinned my leadership career.

Simple examples are to treat all your colleagues with the respect that they deserve, and you would expect if the roles were reversed. Being authentic is key because this is underpinned by your values set and for this to be consistent, then it must be real.”

Who is a leader that you admire and why?

“I am a big Manchester United fan and so followed Sir Alex Ferguson’s career with interest. Apparently, Sir Alex wasn’t the greatest tactician, which we could debate. What is for sure was his inspired leadership. Constantly developing the team, always making proactive decisions to transition to the next level, resilience in the face of tough competition and talent development through the academy. His book, Leading, makes a compelling read.”

In your view what is the most important skill for a leader to have?

“Is a leader born or can the skills be developed? To be a successful leader, then you must have a followership, and this can’t be taken for granted due to your title. Leaders that try to impose their will on the team will probably not last long. So, to a certain extent, leadership is a trait which needs to be developed. The skills in my view that need to be developed are listening, being inquisitive, developing a clear vision which can be readily communicated to the various stakeholders and delivery against your co-created strategy.”

What one personal experience have you had that made you a better leader?

“Managing through severe recessions or business adversity. Whenever I am looking for new leadership talent, I am very much looking for leaders that can demonstrate leadership through the business cycles. Recessions teach you a lot about yourself and can be very isolating as the other stakeholders are looking absolutely at the leader for guidance.”

What motivates you to be a leader?

“The challenge. Taking a business from one place to another and elevating the business to a much better place than when I arrived. Watching the team grow and developed and gain a real sense of pride in their accomplishments.”

What characterises a good leader in your view?

“I was once told that great leaders exhibit the 3 Ps. Positivity, Pro-activity, and People orientated. All great characteristics which I endorse. However, the one that is missing and for me is hugely important, is performance. A question I always ask when recruiting leaders is, ‘what was your legacy from the role?’.”

What is the most difficult aspect of being a leader?

“A frustration for me is to see talent wasted. In every business, there is latent talent and I have always focused on giving talented people opportunities. Seeing talented people not fulfil their potential is difficult.”