Part of the difficulty of leadership is that it is viewed as an attribute as well as an activity; this is the old argument whether leaders are born or made. We have a seemingly banal view: it is both. Leaders can start with some very useful raw material, great interpersonal skills, physical presence, and lots of stamina, to name some, but just as critical is what they learn and develop for themselves.
Below are some of our views to inform your own leadership thinking:
- We believe leadership starts with self awareness. You can’t effectively lead (other than in the despotic sense) with huge blind spots. Self awareness brings personal insight, which facilitates the skills development of how to bring the best out of others.
- Leadership is about giving a sense of real purpose to what people are doing. It sounds a bit ‘pink and fluffy’ but without meaning, people’s work simply becomes transactional. If you are trying to engage Generation X you’ll know the problem. An apparently highly committed individual of 25 decides that they are going to travel, or set up something for themselves, or asks you why they shouldn’t be cynical when they see what your plc has just done with its pension scheme. People are looking for more meaningful answers than ‘Get on with it’ or ‘The money’.
- Leadership is not about being liked but being effective. It’s about getting things done and about taking a firm position on debatable decisions. Leaders have to stand for something. They are not judgmental of people, but of poor performance, low standards and flaky values.
- At the same time, leadership is about being comfortable with ambiguity and paradox. Not everything can be resolved, not all issues reduced to this or that, right or wrong. The leader can cope with this. Where there isn’t clarity of solution they can at least bring clarity of problem, and realise that binary arguments are by definition win/lose ones. What about a tertiary point of view? Some typical seeming contradictions leaders are being asked to ‘find answers’ for include; short term profitability v medium term investment, valuing our people (as a belief) v making redundancies, and consulting the team whilst being fast and decisive.
- Leadership is about being pro-active, using expertise that adds value to what’s currently going on. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean just functional expertise, the turbo charged version of what others have, i.e. the best technician, salesperson, rocket scientist etc, but the kind of expertise that often falls between the organisational cracks. Teambuilding, coaching, facilitating, planning, organising etc. Credibility is founded on having stuff you give others access to. Ask yourself ‘What can I bring to the team?’
- Leaders don’t value traditional status signifiers, position, job title, corner office, car type; they value the status of contribution. They seek out and attach themselves to people who are creating things, getting things done and are prepared (as they are) to be accountable.
- Leaders create an environment and atmosphere where ‘doing the right thing’ becomes implicitly understood and explicitly acted upon. Team members have a platform of values and behaviours to build up and out from, whether official leaders are present or not. This creates the self-managing team, one that doesn’t wait to be told what to do, but gets on with it. When managers complain that their people are too reactive, it says as much about the manager as it does about the team.