Tips to help you be great leaders
Whenever I run a leadership workshop with first-time managers or high potentials looking for their first leadership step, the same view tends to exist more often than not. It is about being in charge; being the one in power, having the most information, and dishing the work out . This is the classical view of great leaders. Often, for new leaders, they see it as their role to answer the questions posed to them by subordinates, sign off on anything and everything, tell people what needs doing and to resolve issues and conflicts that may arise. To new leaders it’s about making decisions and telling people what to do. No, I am not talking about every potential leader in every business. I am just basing this on my 20 years of working with talent and high performance populations, succession candidates and graduates. The good news is that the view has been changing over the last 10 years or so, but it is still a larger number of people who see this as leadership to start with.
Now, we all know that there is indeed some requirement for command-and-control within leadership as it’s where the buck stops. However in today’s knowledge-based environment, most value is created by harnessing knowledge, skill and attitude from interdependent sources, often matrix, often with little authority. The head of almost any organisation needs the knowledge of customers, matrix team members, suppliers, professionals, or other stakeholders over whom they exert little power. Executives, business owners, and team leaders find themselves needing to bring out knowledge rather than impart it.
So in a knowledge, service, and interdependent environment, if you are not actually telling people what actions to take, what is it that leaders do to get results?
The following are seven leadership activities, other than telling someone what to do: exemplify, acknowledge, emotional, frame, follow, facilitate, and presence.
Do yourself what you expect others to do. Walk the talk. One of the most powerful acts of leadership is setting an example. One of the world’s great leaders, Gandhi said it best, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Be careful though, I am not saying you should do aspects of your people’s jobs. It is more about setting examples around attitude towards work, customers and commericals etc. Helping your people know the standards you expect because you follow those standards yourself. It is all to easy to think that being a great leader is about rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in, but this can very quickly lead to “busy fools” syndrome.
If serving as an example is powerful, so is acknowledging others who serve as examples. In a world where we couldn’t possibly have time to attend to everything, showing interest, asking questions and giving something attention, all elevate an item in importance. The act of offering recognition, public and private, formal and informal, to those who are already performing well can deeply impact future behavior of those recognized and those who witness it. Key points to remember; do it authentically because you mean it and don’t do it so often that it ends up watering down the effect. Also, the best kind of acknowledgement is the kind delivered to suit the individual. For example, someone who is driven by doing a good job to a high standard will want to have those standards and output acknowledged, whereas someone else may feel a greater sense of satisfaction when you reward their effort and personal contribution. This is all a part of getting to know what makes your people tick and how best to respond to them.
Don’t worry, I am not going to suggest you cry in front of your team or display outbursts periodically. What I will say though is that each and every one of us is driven by our emotional state and our brains telling us how to behave in that emotional state. The two together are always trying to keep us in a place of harmony and happiness. Our emotional spectrum is based entirely on our upbringing and experiences to date, hence the reason one person will get seriously stressed if people don’t keep the stationery cupboard tidy whereas another can be sworn at and threatened to an alarming extent and not let it bother them. Your goal as a leader is to switch on your “emotional radar” and tune in to what makes your people tick. You need to know what triggers their stress levels, what puts them into conflict mode, what makes them happy and what makes them upset. Being able to identify these triggers will help you to respond to situations either before they become a problem or to enhance the positive effect they create, because you have a deeper understanding of what people’s emotional states are like from their behaviour and conversation.
Framing means using expressions that guide what someone is likely to think (or not think) about an issue, the way that a picture frame puts boundaries around an image. All language involves not only the direct meaning of the words used, but also a host of associations and ideas that channel our thinking in specific directions. For example, public policy makers saying they are “hard on crime” creates different ideas than if they say they are interested in “safe neighborhoods” although either could be about the role of the police department. There is a different set of thoughts that arise when an executive says “everyone here is family” rather than saying “we treat each other like customers” – although both expressions may intend to convey a positive work relationships.
Leading doesn’t happen until someone follows. Remember that just because you may have the official title of leader, there are many situations on a daily, weekly basis where others demonstrate personal leadership based on their expertise or skills. Often the most significant act one can do is to follow someone else’s lead. In doing so, we are not relinquishing overall leadership, just situational leadership. This will help breed trust, loyalty and that humanistic element that so many leaders lack.
If knowledge-based work is about bringing together diverse know-how, dialogue is the process by which this know-how is synthesized into something of value. The ability to convene, listen to different perspectives, steer conversations so everyone can contribute, and guide people through processes for joint problem-solving and decision making are all critical to knowledge environments, especially those seeking to bring out the best talents of everyone involved. The art of facilitating is to remain disciplined and objective, not allowing yourself to be pulled into sides that then stop you from being impartial.
Presence has two elements to it; the act of being present in the moment and the characteristics that demonstrate presence such as charisma, flair, confidence etc. The first is important, but if you’re not careful you could end up being so present that you end up back in “busy fool” syndrome. The goal is to be close enough, periodically, that people’s perception is that you got involved, just enough that you know what it’s like to be one of your team. I refer to this as the “helicopter view”. Imagine you are in a helicopter flying over your team’s activities. From high up, you can see bits of lots of things, the bigger picture. Every so often you fly lower so you can see more of a particular area or activity. The ability to utilise this movement and presence is essential in good leadership.
The other kind of presence is harder to define as it is a whole bunch of characteristics used together to create this perception of presence. Great leaders have it, you know it when that person walks in the room and they just seem to have something about them, their confidence, swagger and charm just make them seem important or noteworthy. What is even more surprising about presence is that we cannot have presence as such, all we can do is demonstrate those characteristics that make up presence. The actual presence itself is given to us by others perception of us.
A final word of wisdom. While all of the seven actions can be enhanced when done from a position of authority or responsibility, having a leadership title is not a requirement. Anyone can demonstrate presence, exemplify, acknowledge, emotional, frame, follow, or facilitate to gain followers for a course of action.
Great leaders do far more than just making decisions and directing others. In the 21st century leadership will increasingly focus on giving people a genuine choice about their action, while making the choice to follow compelling.