It seems that every time I look at my computer there is another story, from another unknown person, telling me about how to become a great leader. I often wonder how many of them have ever led anything – let alone anyone. Who knows? Who cares?
What I can say is that I have led both people, teams, and projects. Sometimes well – maybe even great at a stretch. But other times poorly. Or at least, that is how I remember it. So, I thought my contribution to the endless dialogue on Leadership are the experiences that I carry with me. Hopefully this resonates with some people. If not, file it into the “who knows, who cares” folder.
What is a leader anyway?
I suspect if I clicked on GOOGLE and asked for a definition of Leadership my search engine might melt down with the answers. So, I will try something different. Something more adventurous. Here are my thoughts on the matter…
Perhaps the best way to explain leadership is not with a crisp one-liner, but rather, a series of adjectives. A leader is someone who acts as a coach. They listen. They learn about what matters to you. They have the ability to see around corners and predict what might be coming. They don’t know all the answers. They seek to understand. They help you find the way. That’s right – they help YOU find the way…
They are not a one trick pony. They empower you to share your views – no matter how controversial. They are human. They have feelings. They get things wrong – and right. They have a common superpower – their teams CHOOSE to be led by them. They make hard calls for the greater good. They don’t play favourites. They speak less and encourage more. They recognise that leadership success is an output of the relationships they have built.
They realise that a manager is a title, but the term leader is awarded to them by those who they serve.
Some of the best leaders I knew did this…
When I reflect on this topic only a handful of people come to mind. As the years tick along and I work with many more people, I realise how uncommon great leadership is. By that, I mean really great leadership – the stuff that personally inspires you to be better. Sometimes it even inspires you to be better than you thought you could be. How is that? Amazing.
These leaders cared – about what they did, what they said, how they came across and what mattered to me. They found a way to build a genuine connection of trust. They communicated regularly on all manner of topics. They took the time to learn personal interests, family lives and individual preferences. They set stretch goals and encouraged personal growth. They always had your back. They weren’t always your friend – but you wished they were. They always took the high road. They challenged your thinking. They become a role model. If you’ve ever had that, it is something you never forget.
These behaviours made me want to be better. They had me thinking about ways to improve during my weekend. They got me through heavy workloads and challenging customers. Great leaders really do make all the difference.
Some of the worst leaders I knew did this…
I’m sure all of us have come across a few of these guys. A funny thing is that I have often learned as much or more from poor leaders as I have from great ones. I watch and listen to what they do – to the impact, and vow never to replicate it. Righto, here are a few traits that you might want to avoid.
They say one thing and do another – you cannot trust them. A great saying, I once heard was: “If you want to know what someone means, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do”. Try this sometime, you may be surprised at what you learn. They can be aggressive, over-bearing and self-serving. You know the type – “you work for me”. They are ego driven. They often have poor self-awareness. Many have been unable to create a credible strategy and deflect attention from that with unrealistic demands. They are too far from the detail to know what is going on. They surround themselves with a few and marginalise the rest.
I’m sure you could add to my list. The point is… don’t do this stuff! Think about how you come across to your team and create an environment where they feel confident giving you feedback. Whenever I see a poor-performing team, I always look to its leader. Performance always reflects leadership. It’s a big statement. So, I will say it again: “Performance always reflects leadership”.
My experiences in leadership…
Over the years I have led many of teams. Early on I sought that out in my career. In later years it came with the job. I have always found leading teams of people hard. As simple as it is to say: “do this and don’t do that” – it gets complicated, quickly. People are ever changing, their styles are diverse, their opinions many and their aspirations and expectations unique.
For me, the biggest breakthrough was accepting I don’t have to know all the answers. How hard is it trying to look like you know the answers, when your team does, and you don’t. I know some of you know what I mean here… In any case, people rarely want an answer, they just want to discuss their idea with someone they trust. They want a leader.
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