Before setting up my coaching practice, I spent 30 years working in the corporate world. I have observed leadership and management at its best – and its worst. I have seen top roles thrust on some who proved unsuited to the task. Individuals promoted because they are excellent technical experts yet with little or no training in management or leadership – nor the desire to learn. The Chartered Management Institute calls these people ‘accidental managers’.
Conversely, some of the best leadership that I have witnessed has come not from those with formal training, but people who are prepared to show their vulnerability. Individuals who admit they don’t know it all. Such people are inclusive team-builders who understand the power of diversity to open up perspectives, generate new ideas and working methods. They are willing to give people the space to express themselves and find time to provide constructive feedback to help them grow. They lead by example – by listening to others and being receptive to feedback on their performance.
Great leaders are not defensive when challenged. They will seek to understand the view or idea expressed. They are unafraid to acknowledge the truth in what they hear. They know that acting on that knowledge can lead to breakthroughs in performance. Such leaders are willing to seek out alternative approaches and are alive to possibilities. They are life long learners who inspire others to push their boundaries. If someone stumbles along the way, they will encourage them to learn from the experience, be resourceful and keep trying.
A skilful leader understands the importance of setting clear goals and objectives. They will communicate these and ensure progress is measured. Effective leadership has no truck with promoting a ‘blame culture’. Such people do not duck difficult issues and will deal with these swiftly, fairly and with a positive outcome in mind. This builds trust which is the vital component of any good relationship. Ultimately the quality of the leader’s performance will depend on the success of their relationships with their team and other stakeholders.
Skilled leaders know how to articulate a vision of how the future will be, but also how to get there. Integrating strategy with practical implementation is crucial to motivating and mobilising people to get involved. Many organisations suffer from strategic initiative fatigue – the leaders may brim with bright ideas, but over time the team can become jaded if none come to fruition. Skilled leaders avoid this by ensuring every discussion about a new strategic initiative concludes by asking:
1) Who will devote time to getting this done?
2) What are we prepared not to do to invest in this initiative?
3) What value will this initiative add to the overall strategic focus?
Unless there is a clear answer, then the skilled leader will be brave enough to know that the action should not proceed in the present form.
A skilled leader needs to understand and handle various situations. What’s required is an open mind and the ability to see beyond the immediate agenda to what is truly important. An effective leader can inspire others with their ideas and by the way they act. They are consistent communicators who value the input of others. They encourage the mindset of always doing the right thing. By walking the talk, the leader becomes an agent for change and influence.
There is no mystery to leadership, and yet great leadership is rare. Leaders don’t have all the answers. Their gift is the readiness to engage and collaborate with others to find the answers. Such leaders are humble, responsive, and adaptable as well as visionary, determined and decisive. In my view, leadership is an attitude as well as a skill that is honed with effort. It is earned rather than assigned as a role and statement of authority.