Almost everyone has their own theories and perspectives on the topic of leadership and generally will agree that leadership is a higher level skill and different from ‘management’. I have had the pleasure (in most cases) and honour of working with many leaders and have drawn on these experiences to bring these few thoughts together.
Leave your ego at the door
Wilfred Peterson said “The best leaders are very often the best listeners. They have an open mind. They are not interested in having their own way but in finding the best way.” So easy to say – yet hard to do.
When unpacked a little, this statement captures my own thinking about leadership and reflects my background as a psychologist –; my strong belief is in the power of people (staff), trusting them and giving them the freedom, with guidance, to shine. For me it’s true that the sum of 1+1 can be far greater than 2.
I have seen that results are much better when a leader can be part of the team while getting people working together for common goals. It is genuine listening which opens leaders’ eyes and ears to others’ feedback, comments and (often better) ideas. Good leaders leave their own ego, and defensiveness, at the door for the collective good.
Empower your people to achieve
Gathering the right people around and recruiting for values and consistency with the organisation’s culture is vital. Staff are needed to whom a leader can delegate, trust, and who are self-motivated so the leader can keep only a ‘light touch’ on people and processes. Delegation is a key to a leaders’ survival as well as to emerging leaders’ learning and development.
Leaders need to have faith and confidence in the delegate, empower them to get the job done, and keep out of their way – no half delegation. Trust is big in my ideal leader scenario. The great leaders employ people who are trustworthy and continue to build and respect that trust – they publicly acknowledge, even rejoice in, the contributions of others rather than claim them as their own.
Paint a bigger picture
However, it’s not quite all about the people.
There is also passion and commitment to a vision – the ‘why’ of what we do. Whether it’s one’s own vision or whether it’s an organisation’s vision which the leader adopts, s/he has to bring it to life because other stakeholders read, or even feel, the leader’s commitment and will be engaged by and drawn to this vision.
Underpinning the vision is the strategy or ‘big picture’. This is the grand plan, the helicopter view, which guides the detail and operational elements on a pathway to success.
Strategies to implement the vision need to be clear (although flexible) and the ability to see the organisation as a whole and understand how all its functions and systems are interacting is vital. The great leader escapes ‘management’ from time to time in the helicopter to check this view.
Stick to your principles
Finally, leadership, which I hope I have articulated clearly is a higher skill and different from day to day management, is also being very clear about the underlying principles and beliefs driving the vision. When making difficult decisions, true leaders are guided by these principles and able to do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. This is the ultimate test.
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