If you recently read my article on leadership when it comes to parenting then you’d be well aware of the underlying theme there. That article received some great feedback. The message though can be translated across to business – as a manager, senior leader or CEO (from the opinion of a manger). Here is that version.
What leadership in business must look like
This is less subjective than parenting because the larger audience to which a leader presents themselves normalises the approach a little. However, a great leader knows that people are at the centre of everything and so they take the time to personalise their approach to leadership. In depends on a range of things, namely;
- The type of leadership you were exposed to growing up and the type of leadership you were exposed to as an employee under a supervisor, manager or CEO
- What you value, and, what the company values
- Your employees and team members strengths
- Your strengths and the strengths of your leadership team (or lack thereof)
- Your ability, or, inability to be selfless
The type of leadership you were exposed to growing up and the type of leadership you were exposed to as an employee under a supervisor, manager or CEO
This will play a key part in the direction you choose to take when leading people in the workplace. And lucky for you, the choice is still simple. You either micro-manage or you macro-lead. Contrary to some peoples view, I agree micro-management has its place to some degree and in some types of organisations. Those organisations that are large and require high levels of consistency often with a very high production throughput (e.g., fast food chains) benefit from systematized micro-management, directed not however at individual employee performance (people are most important; see macro-leadership), but keeping the team in sight of the system and its end goal. It’s about getting the same food, every time, consistently, with speed and equally important, hygienically.
On the flip, macro-leadership is all about the big picture, the long term, knowing very well that people and the culture they work in are the true driving forces behind how well an organisation will do along this journey. This goes beyond a leadership team giving “great speeches” to will employees into taking the desired action but, through walking-the-talk, inspire employees to walk-the-path.
But what does leadership like this actually look like, practically?
- A leadership team scaling back a realistic percentage of their calendars otherwise dedicated to meetings that really don’t need to be held and investing that time face-to-face with their team and the organisation. Especially at the front line. A mechanic can’t repair a car over the phone just as a builder cant build a house sitting at a desk.
- Organisations employing leaders with demonstrated experience in leadership that created change, big or small. A good organisation will be able to see past the CV and take into account emotional (EQ) and social intelligence. This means changing the way you interview candidates. Asking “Can you give us an example of a time when you had to deal with a challenging employee” will give you very different response to a bolder approach such as “What do you like most about human beings and what would you change if you had the opportunity?” When you get a generic answer to this question it’s a red flag. Explore the answers further and you start revealing the intent of the candidate.
- Good succession planning. If you have an employee that caries the values presented here and they are showing they want to lead, give them the opportunity. Those employees that are true leaders, that started on the front line, will have an appreciation for the organisation much more than someone new and from a different organisation. Yes, that approach plays well when you need to facilitate dramatic change or talent gets stale, but if natural leaders are doing their part to facilitate change on the front line, imagine what they could do if you gave them the opportunity to influence more.
- Under promising and over delivering. And keeping those promises. People loose faith in leadership when they hear of great change coming and then *crickets chirping*.
Say what you’ll do and do what you say.
- Transparency. Nothing speaks more of failed leadership than a lack of transparency and a lack of honesty. People need direction and direction means telling it how it is. Back this up with a plan that you execute on and keep people informed about the progress along the way and you will build trust throughout a project, organisational change or challenging point-in-time.
- Getting to know your people. And that goes beyond how well they are doing with their KPIs. If you ask how someone is going and they tell you their daily workload, follow up with a question about how are “they” going. This is one of the foundations of trust and strong relationships. It’s also the foundation of being able to subsequently influence for good.
- Don’t PR every speech. And welcome questions with honest answers when you talk to the crowd. If you say you welcome questions, truly welcome them. If you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know the answer. But find out and follow up. Don’t PR your way around it.
- Having your employees back. If you are willing to stand by your integrity and moral values, at all costs, people will see you for the honest person you are. Humility is so underrated.
What you value, and, what the company values
Your values, and what you don’t value, play a large role in leadership. If the values of your company contradict the way you interact with your employees then it’s going to be a hard sell to convince your team that you, as a leader, and most importantly, the organisation behind you, cares. If you are a leader in an organisation that is not living out it’s core values, it will constantly feel like you’re rowing your boat upstream and against the current.
What are the strengths of your team?
In a past life I spent time in both not-for-proft and publicly traded global recruitment organisations and interviewed over a thousand job-seekers and countless employers seeking good talent over the years. The usual interview questions always surface blah-blah name a time when blah-blah give us an example of blah-blah how do you manage blah-blah. I agree that some of these questions give basic insights into some of the core traits an employer might be seeking. But it’s much more valuable to find out about the person you’re trying to deploy into a vacancy.
A good leader will be self aware and self awareness is the foundation to emotional intelligence. Once you have a team or if you’re a newly recruited leader for a team it’s time to put them first.
Your first one-to-two years will be about building trust. Giving them every indication that no matter what happens, you will be there to support and defend them. If you lack the ability to easily understand the personality types of your employees there is nothing wrong with personality profiling tools such as values indexes or other profiling tools. My only encouragement in this would be to do it on yourself first and share it with your team. It shows vulnerability, and, by putting your own laundry out for your team to see, you will instantly plant the seed needed to go miles in building the trust you need as a leader. From here it’s about getting to know your team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Delegating tasks and activities that a conducive to the individual strengths of a member of your team will yield a much more productive workplace than expecting everyone to be able to produce the same output as a result of generic input. Just as no one child should be parented the same, no one member of an organisation works exactly the same. Celebrate the individual strengths of your team and make it known that you value them. Again, it goes back to trust.
What are your strengths? And what do you suck at?
Self-awareness is an integral part to knowing what areas of your personality are an asset to an organisation and what aspects you could leave behind at the door on your way in. Being a leader means being selfless.
Selflessness is by far one of the most underrated attributes of a profound leader. Putting integrity and the other person above and before yourself takes both courage and confidence not without a genuine desire to see others do just as good as we hope for ourselves. It’s that desire to give, to see others be happy, to follow what brings joy to their own lives, without judgement, persecution, ridicule or cynicism that embodies what it means to be selfless.
Knowing where your team wants to be in a year, two years, three years from now will allow you to build their daily workload around developing the skills they need to achieve those dreams.
It is up to them to define what that is. It is up to us as leaders, managers or CEOs to facilitate their journey until which point they can carry their own, to pave out their own happiness, taking responsibility for it. By betting first on the strengths of the people in our organisations, giving them opportunities to perform in their role with independence and focusing not on our own weaknesses but supporting what makes us strong as leaders, we are inherently increasing the odds of a working life not centred around being selfish, but one based on being selfless. That is were great leadership starts, and ends.
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