A good listener, trusting, looks good in blue … no, not a lonely hearts ad, the ideal boss. With the Housing Corporation chief executive's job up for grabs, Stuart Macdonald and James Hughes ask the experts what makes a good leader and Miles Cole imagines what she might look like
In the wake of Norman Perry's resignation, the Housing Corporation is looking for a new chief executive. It will take a strong captain to steer such an important ship,and housing professionals are already certain about the kind of person that's needed.

"We need someone with the charisma to get our message across and get us back where we need to be; someone with a touch of the skill of John F Kennedy or Martin Luther King about them,"says a source within the corporation.

Another corporation source agrees. "They will need to be able to punch their weight in Whitehall. A high-profile leader would be best – the corporation is a big, disparate team that needs to be taken forward in choppy waters. They'll need the personality to carry staff with them.

"An important issue will be to have credibility with the movement," the source continues. "We have recently had a couple of people from outside [Norman Perry, who was chief executive of Solihull council before joining the corporation, and his predecessor Anthony Mayer, who came from Rothschild Asset Management] so the question is: can we afford the learning curve? The corporation has to move quickly in a number of areas – investment, regional housing boards, the comprehensive spending review. Whoever it is will need some knowledge of the issues, otherwise we will suffer. And they will need intelligence and energy."

Peter Wallop, group personnel manager at Southern Housing Group, says: "They will need to be flexible and display a willingness to listen – housing is an extremely dynamic environment just now. Being able to respond to this changing environment will be crucial. And obviously, they will need a sense of humour."

Graham Moran, director of Metropolitan Home Ownership, sums it up: "What's needed is an injection of confidence into the corporation."

What, then, should the corporation be looking for in its choice of Perry's successor? Everyone knows that some people are natural leaders, but why are they better than others – and is it something you can learn? We asked five experts: what makes a great leader?

How to behave

Karen Giles, adviser for organisation and development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says: “There’s a need for a clear vision and sense of where the organisation is going – this is often not that easy for boards to do. This should be allied to a sense of purpose for the organisation. They also need humility. Really good chief executives recognise they can’t know or do everything, but use the strengths of those around them. “A leader will need to engage people in their vision and get them to deliver it. If they can be available to staff in person rather than through technology, that is even better. To staff and the sector, they will need to speak in a language people understand – not just acronyms.” Richard Grimes is a partner at Nation, an agency that organises conferences in leadership. He says: “It is difficult to narrow down what makes a great leader, but one thing is for sure: it is not just about the success of the company but its culture and morale. “There are certain areas we always look at when helping to choose the right leader. First, a good boss will always be one who can communicate. Bosses in large organisations are inevitably remote, but this doesn’t mean they can’t share their enthusiasm for the company. “Another attribute is the ability to teach and coach. This is done by allowing subordinates to experiment and allowing less experienced people into important meetings. They must also learn from their people, particularly frontline staff, be able to show trust in them, question the relevance of their strategy and be committed to change.”

What not to wear

“Does it really make a difference how you dress? In many cases, it does,” says Samantha Burns, a fashion adviser at John Lewis. “In the conservative business climate, the man or woman in charge needs to have the confidence of staff and appearances do matter. “First, wear blue. The favourite colour of most people is blue – it conveys trust, calm and confidence. Scent should be low-key or absent. People can be dissuaded by someone who overdoes the aftershave or perfume, and leaders should always be subtle. “Never go out with missing buttons or frayed cuffs. A leader needs to set an example. Make sure you are neat, clean and ironed. It sounds obvious but people in positions of authority may not have a lot of time so they can let things slip. “Hair must be brushed and on no account should you be seen with bitten or long nails. Make sure they are neat. People notice. Of course, you may want to stand out, just so you can show you are the boss, but the best way to do this is with subtle accessories. For the man, an expensive tie-pin, a handkerchief in the top pocket. For the woman, jewellery that suggests someone in a position of power, such as a gold necklace – something that isn’t gaudy.”

You are what you write

Handwriting expert Charlotte Alergant suggests that leaders’ handwriting often does not have great flow and fluency. “Confidence is quite a big point. They won’t press lightly on the page. Leaders are intense people, they have purpose so they will press hard. They are not free spirits, happy to go off on a whim. They will know what their goals are and how they will achieve them. “Too light indicates lethargy and you do not want someone who is lazy in charge of a big corporation. You should also look at the space left between words. Someone who writes in a very confined manner probably isn’t the one for you because it shows a narrow thinker and a leader needs to be innovative and open to all possibilities. “The height of the capital letters in proportion to ascending letters such as ‘t’ or ‘I’ will also be a good indication. The greater the difference, the greater the leader. An assertive personality is a must – this is indicated by the capital letters. The signature is probably the most helpful. It will be underlined if it is someone with leadership qualities. It means they put themselves on a pedestal and feel they need to be the authoritative figure.”

Some are born to greatness

Someone’s horoscope will show whether they’re a leader, according to astrologer Elbert Wade. “Your natal chart will clearly indicate whether you were born to lead. A natal or birth chart shows the positions of the moon, the sun and all the planets in the solar system at the time, date and geographical location of the subject’s birth. “The chart is divided into ‘masculine’ signs and ‘feminine’ signs. Planets in the masculine signs – Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius and Aquarius – indicate the degree to which anyone, regardless of gender, prefers to lead. More than five birth planets in any or all of these masculine signs is a very good indication that the subject might prefer to initiate, to start, to command and to control. If seven planets are in the action signs, it means there is a desire to initiate or control just about everything 70% of the time. “That shows the will to lead, but you must have the ability too, and a natal chart will also show this. You will have to split it down the middle and see how many of the masculine signs are in each side. A true leader will have the majority of masculine signs on the left side.”