A lot of friends, family & clients have asked for my thoughts on these challenging times. As someone who talks for a living it’s been interesting these last few weeks, having the chance to work on both my listening & observational skills. There are so many opinions out there from how to stay safe to what to do with ourselves during lockdown or isolation. Some of it has been good (I’ve done a lot of walking which is great for the body and the mind) but I’ve also heard, read & seen a lot of things I disagree with and dislike. As an example LinkedIn seems to have evolved into a political soapbox, which feels strange to me. 

From an observational viewpoint I think a lot of us are people-watchers at heart, so just sitting back and witnessing people’s behaviour & comments has been fascinating and it got me thinking about something I teach and that numerous delegates I’ve had the pleasure of training over the last 20 years have an opinion on – what is leadership?

As part of my Management/Leadership Development Programme, I ask ‘what are the characteristics & attributes of a leader’ followed by asking the group for their examples of great leadership.

The obvious names are often put forward first, established figures from history e.g. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Churchill, Joan of Arc, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks.

I am always keen to encourage people on the training to look further afield as well e.g. for leaders in sport, the arts, inventors.

So again more obvious names come through like Alex Ferguson, Michelangelo & Tesla. 

Then what about film or tv – actors/writers/directors?

Or, on my personal favourite subject – music. Who are the great leaders with regard to singers/songwriters/producers/solo artists/groups?

At first people find it hard or incongruous to name leaders in sport, film or music. How could being a great football captain or a maker of amazing music compare to someone who has stood up against oppression or been wrongly imprisoned, tortured or killed for their beliefs? 

For me that’s the key to all of this. Leadership isn’t about status, position or hierarchy. It’s about being bold, leading by example, taking chances, moving in one direction when everyone else is saying it can’t be done that way, inspiring others to follow you without  demanding followers. 

I believe we can admire leadership in many different walks of life without expecting they be on the same level of magnitude but to just be powerful and inspirational in their own way. Let me try and use a couple of personal examples. 

When Nelson Mandela was on trial at Rivonia in South Africa in 1964 he took the opportunity to defend himself. The judges guessed he might use the opportunity to disrespect the government. What they could never have expected was what he said in the dock in his closing statement. It was a very long speech (over 3 hours) but it still blows me away today:- 

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised but, my Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Let’s be clear here, Mandela was on trial for treason. The likely sentence when found guilty (which he was) was death. This was a time before social media, before the internet, before 24hr news channels. Who was he hoping were writing down his words? It was the international journalists from all over the world he was trying to reach, yet he must have also known they couldn’t save him. 

My use of Mandela as a leader is deliberate even though some people are quick to point out his faults. The strongest accusation against him being that he was supposedly a terrorist or that he did not fulfil his dream to make South Africa the utopia he had hoped for.

His faults are crucial in my definition of the make up of a leader. Give me any of the leadership names who you would think of and they would all have their faults. None of us are perfect. That is why leadership has to be subjective. 

The second example I wanted to use, from a different field, is Bob Dylan. Those that know me well, will be aware of how important Dylan is to me but more importantly is what he has done for popular music. When he started out he was a liberal, a folkie, a protest singer for the workers and the downtrodden. It could be argued even if Dylan only made songs like ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ & ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ then we would still be talking about him today. As those songs became anthems for bodies like the civil rights movement and the changes that were happening in the 60’s all over the world.

However at the peak of his initial popularity, Dylan significantly changed direction – he went electric. In just a 16 months period in 1965 & 1966 he made 3 albums that changed the face of music forever. He broke the mould of the 3-min single by releasing the 6-min masterpiece ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. 

I could write endlessly about his impact, his legacy, his influence but what’s unarguable is Dylan is a leader in the world of music because he inspired others to change. He is still releasing amazing music today. He has just released ‘Murder Most Foul’ a staggering, 17-min rumination on the assassination of JFK and its lasting effect on him to this day. 

Linking to my point about Mandela above, Dylan as a man clearly has faults. He can be a moody so & so and he can be cruel in his put downs but that can’t detract from his achievements.

In comparison to someone like Mandela’s success or reach, Dylan can seem insignificant to some but he inspired thousands of musicians to change the way they write and perform, change how we see and hear music and how we are only confined by our own self-imposed limitations. That to me is leadership. Worth remembering in these reflective, isolated days!

If we can stretch our thinking to register that leaders can come in all shapes, sizes, colours, class, sexuality, the more I believe it gives us a chance to learn the attributes required for us to be leaders ourselves. Some of our personal leaders would be unknown to the rest of us. They haven’t had the books or films made about them but if they have inspired even one of us to change & to learn a new way of thinking or being and to appreciate a different perspective, then surely that is leadership?

If learning more about leadership appeals to you then please get in touch to find out how you or the people you know (in your business or personal life) can book on one of my modular Development Programmes. I deliver a management/leadership programme for business that covers an amazing range of subjects from self-awareness, developing yourself, improving teams, coaching, feedback, communication skills and how to deal with change. So relevant for these times.

I’m also launching this year my first ever Self-Belief Programme for individuals looking to improve their confidence, so more about how to cope with life.

Post-lockdown I’m really looking forward to continuing to deliver these amazing Programmes personally all over the UK!


  1. Mark Carr

    Thought provoking and food for thought for anyone currently in lockdown planning for the future.

  2. Peter Dickinson

    If you like this article then I encourage you to attend one of Danny’s course they are equally thought provoking and enjoyable.

    • Fleur Gill

      Super impressed by Danny.He is an amazing teacher,entertainer and is totally I tune with his delegates.

  3. Mike Brougham

    Good read that Danny … I can see the points you make and how we can sometimes concentrate unessicerily on faults…when effectively a person can be forgiven the smaller stuff if their overall contribution is more significant…

  4. Mike Brougham

    Good read that Danny … I can see the points you make and how we can sometimes concentrate unessicerily on faults…when effectively a person can be forgiven the smaller stuff if their overall contribution is more significant…

  5. Ste McCourt

    Excellent that Danny and some good thoughts around how we all have faults but it doesnt stop us being good leaders in our own way

  6. Sandra Scott

    Some excellent points made there Danny, particularly that it is important to realise we are all human beings who come with flaws. One person’s flaw is another person’s joy. Thank you writing this it was a very refreshing read.

  7. Robert O'Connor

    Very good Danny.
    Having attended some of your courses, and found them superb.
    I have also sent my staff on a few, and they always came back more positive and productive.

  8. Shaun

    Marvellous uplifting and inspirational Danny. Love how you used your love of Dylan. What I really like is you dont preach you give avenues to explore.

    • Marian Cotter

      Loved this Danny.

      I changed and stopped worrying over a lot of things after doing your course. The main thing I stopped was trying to fix my faults or spending too much time on the things I’m not the best at, and that really improved my confidence.
      Thank you.

      • Dan Moody

        I can relate to you 100% Marian.

  9. Pete Fisher

    Fantastic blog Danny, some really good points. Leadership is such a wide ranging subject so its refreshing to see you approaching this from a different angle. Everyone has been influenced by music/artists etc in one way or another, possibly inspiring in a positive way. One of main attributes of a good leader, to inspire. Great read. I hope to read more in the future.

  10. Abi

    Super clever that. Loved it xx

  11. Andy Sutton

    Danny breaks down his thinking, provides many relative examples, then inspires and motivates me whilst keeping it fun and thought provoking. The lightbulb moments on his modular program are many!

    I believe anyone can improve, Danny proves that’s possible.

  12. Helen Boylett-Smith

    Danny – Thank you for a thought provoking blog which I read with great interest. We are all in control of our own destinies and your training offers an inspirational roadmap to help us reach our goals, whether business related or our personal aspirations.

  13. Gill Nuttall

    Anyone who knows Danny, will have read this in his voice. It’s impact is right there.

    I share a love of music with Danny Clarke and every session of the course that I’m currently on, we have a conversation about one band or another. Invariably, we find ourselves back at Dylan.

    Anyone reading this who hasn’t done any of Danny’s training, please do look at it seriously. Not only is it brilliant for our work/business setting, but there are large chunks that can be used in our personal lives.

  14. Chris Jones

    very powerful course. Even when you think you are a good manager makes you take a step back and have a good look at yourself.

    • Rayna Abdul

      Wow great read Danny very powerful words.
      So happy I got to attend your courses.
      Each course I have attended has massively developed my confidence more and more to be my own leader and help lead others.

  15. Neil Brailsford

    Great Blog Danny – you quite rightly identify leading by example as a key skill of a great leader I think we can all relate to the lack of this from the current leader of our country how things could have been so different if he had made sure he and his party did this! I am currently attending one of Danny’s courses and would thoroughly recommend them not only does it positively impact work life it also makes you a better person outside of work – thank you

  16. Sarah Kelly

    Fab blog Danny. very thought provoking. What makes a great leader is always going to be based on peoples opinions. your course is helping me improve and become a better manager

  17. Barry Turner

    I love how you articulate what you consider a great leader, and how challenging ones thoughts about what a great leader is opening up a world of the potential trade-off between positive and negative attributes of a person/leader.
    I also love how subjective it is, that a great leader to me is possibly not a great leader to you. All too often we stick labels to people about how their actions help/offend/hinder/promote us, and its not a binary or mathematical approach. Tick box 1 and tick box 2 = Great Leader – Job done.
    Having attended your course, and felt the benefits both in a work-life and personal perspective; the challenges have been supportive and enlightening. Hearing managers of 50 years change their perspective on leadership having attended your course, fills me with the hope that again managers of 50 years seek a better way.
    A great blog, cheers.

  18. Kathryn Dickinson

    A thought provoking blog which makes very valid points Danny. Thank you for sharing!
    Particularly important to remember that we all come with our own flaws but that does not mean you cannot be a great leader.
    Like you say leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and it does not necessarily have to be a well known figure. It could be someone personal to us that has had a positive impact on our life.
    Attending your course has been the best investment of my life and it has improved my professional and personal life in more ways that I could have ever imagined. Thank you!

  19. Alison Li

    Great blog Danny, thanks for sharing your insight.
    Totally agree leadership comes in all shapes and forms, and it’s not about hierarchy and status but about inspiration and courage.
    Currently on your course and I always come away feeling enlightened and motivated. Thank you!

  20. Gee

    Great read Danny!
    I have been lucky to learn from the type of leaders who nurture the people/team and build on their confidence, training and experiences in order to make the most out of everyone’s skills. My team are my best asset!
    Can’t wait for the next session!

  21. David Brisco

    Great read Danny, really enjoying the content of your Leadership Development course at present, and don’t want it to end as we approach module 9! You have an extremely unique delivery style which I find motivating, engaging and effective; all traits of a successful Leader.

    I love the blog, some great examples of Leadership; and love the point that no Leader is perfect (our discussions yesterday on Sir Alex Ferguson proves that) considering his aggressive streak as referenced by the infamous ‘hair dryer treatment stories’.

    Well done on the blog and let’s all strive to be better Leaders and get as close as possible to that 100%, we want to be the best we can be and maybe more importantly, the people we lead to be the best they can be … nobody wants to end up on Desolation Row!

  22. Jonny Stubbs

    You should definitely do more blog posts Danny!

    Interesting read and food for thought. One of the key things your program has taught me is just how much there is to learn and develop in the areas of management and leadership. It’s no surprise then that there are probably no 100% perfect leaders. The important bit is to be self-aware enough to realise that and keep striving.

  23. Emma Hatfield

    A great blog Danny. What I particularly like about your sharing your view on leadership is that you ask people to look within to work out what would inspire them. It’s the same as the time on your course when you give your delegates food for thought. Leadership is not about preaching but creating a spark of interest. Our last session showed that we all have different political and religious beliefs and interests, so it’s important to find inspiration in what delights you personally. By coaching and not telling, the listener will be more inclined to take action.


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