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What Makes a Leader

In this post let’s focus on what makes a leader.

Let’s assume you are a member (Insider or Legacy) of StrategyTraining.com and using the programs to progress in your career. Which of the following outcomes do you hope to achieve as an Insider or Legacy member, and would you be satisfied if you achieved them?


How many of you wish, and truly believe, that if you communicated and could think like the partners in our videos your career would be completely transformed?



How many of you wish, and truly believe, that if you framed/structured a problem/solution like the partners in our videos your career would be completely transformed?



How many of you wish, and truly believe, that if you could complete the detailed consulting analyses in our videos your career would be completely transformed?

Many of you would want all these skills.

You would consider them worthy outcomes to being an Insider or Legacy member.

Except, they are not outcomes. These are all inputs to achieving the only outcome you should pursue, and what makes a leader: adding the most value to your client, employer, and your team and, as a result, be rewarded with a promotion, increase in your salary, or higher revenue and profits if you are running your own business.

This is the one and only objective you need to measure.

In our years of working with clients, this is one of the fundamental reasons they don’t succeed. It’s this confusion between goals and inputs. It is one of the crucial answers to a question what makes a leader.

Which skills to master

And within input skills, there is often confusion about which skill to master.

I see this with many clients I personally mentor.

You could very well learn how to complete the detailed analyses we teach, but it may not be the skill needed for your career, and you will not be rewarded for it.

If you are in management, you will not perform the detailed analyses yourself. It’s not the skill you need to learn. You are a leader. You need to frame problems and guide the teams doing the work.

Let’s contrast the life of a leader in management against an analyst to see which skills will be rewarded. Those are the skills you need to develop.

What makes a leader vs. analyst

Day in the life of a leader

Controls his/her time. Makes numerous decisions while attending meetings, reviewing progress from teams, and meeting clients. There is very little time spent alone.

Decisions without detailed analyses

Does not have the time and is not required to spend hours, days, and weeks locked away by themselves completing an analysis. Yet, they must make the correct decision.

Expected to

Analyze issues in minutes or an hour or two at most, and make numerous critical decisions with imperfect data, and implement the decision to generate a banked benefit as measured by increased net income.

Senior-level skills needed (example from partnership level at management consulting firms)

Here we will give an example of a senior person within a consulting firm, but you can apply the same thinking to any organization: Partners in management consulting firms don’t complete weeks of analysis before planning the study and drafting recommendations on even the most complex engagements. A strategy partner designs the overall recommendation in a day, using reasonable hypotheses and business judgment. Their thoughts are provided to the engagement team as direction for the analyses needed to support the recommendation. It is a counterintuitive approach.

This is the skill a leader needs

The ability to analyze an issue and make a decision with very little time, using just a sheet of paper and a pencil, that is logical and can influence his/her peers and subordinates.

Leaders who can make decisions only after weeks of analysis, that they have personally led, are learning a process that they will struggle to directly apply in their career.

It is not possible to allocate the time and resources needed to make decisions like an analyst. A leader makes decisions using an approach, like a strategy partner, that arrives at the correct answer using a rigorous process of critical thinking. Yet, rigor does not require weeks of time and analysis.

Leaders are rewarded when they

Implement the right decision.

Bank the returns expected.

Usually, it’s an increase in net income.

Reviewing analysis

A leader must be able to check work they have never seen before, critically analyze the rigor of the approach and the recommendations, focus on the key problems and provide feedback in a matter of minutes during a meeting.

This is what strategy partners do. They arrive weekly to review the work of the team and must quickly understand and offer direction to work they are seeing for the first time.


Never work alone.

They implement something.

Implement through others.

Influence employees, clients, and investors.

Use the work of analysts.

Guide for leaders

So what makes a leader? Leaders do not manage a business, unit, team, product, etc. Leaders are always building or growing a business. Leaders are always convincing someone to do something. A leader who can only manage a business but cannot grow a business is soon replaced. To grow a business, a leader is always making a set of decisions.

Now contrast this with the skills and diary of an analyst. It’s important to realize you may be managing your career like an analyst even though it’s not your title and you may even be in management. If you spend your day like an analyst and work like an analyst, that will be your career trajectory.

Day in the life of an analyst

Spends the day planning an analysis, collecting the data, and completing the analysis. Prepares slides and or a written report. Most work is performed alone.

It’s all about analyses

The primary job is completing an analysis.

Expected to

Complete the analyses over weeks and present a conclusion.

Associate-level skills needed

Develop issue trees, prioritize branches, develop hypotheses, list data needs, prepare exhibits, develop a storyboard, prepare focus interviews, and collect data.

This is the skill an analyst needs

Structured problem-solving with the time and resources to collect and test data over several days or weeks.

Analysts are rewarded for

An analysis.

A report.

A draft recommendation.

A draft conclusion.

Analysts rarely review others’ work

They produce the work.


Run an analysis alone.

Are not measured on implementation.

Influence their manager.

Provide the leader with an analysis.

Guide for analysts

Analysts need to learn the rigor and correct approach to analyzing and solving business problems.

It’s important to know your outcome and know the input skills you should master when using Insider and Legacy training content on StrategyTraining.com, or any training content you choose to use. In general, management, leadership, and communication structuring skills are more important as you become more senior.

Take some time to list your outcomes and input skills. Decide the metrics you will use to measure them, as well as determine goals and milestones.

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