Leadership: It’s Never Been More Important
Over the years I’ve worked with a multitude of leaders in various industries. I’ve worked for them, alongside them, and fulfilled the role of a leader personally. With talk of ongoing change in the world of work, global recession and political upheaval, leadership, that is good leadership, has never been more important.
It is within this context that I share this opinion piece, with the intention to perhaps encourage others to engage in the conversation about what good or great leadership is, or to drive a level of reflection and introspection to help leaders reconnect with what makes them great.
A leader, by definition, has followers. All too often however, commercial leaders are too reliant on their positional leadership, entering into a mindset where they believe employees or staff have to follow their lead simply because they are the CEO or Founder, for example. This just isn’t the case. Particularly in the current work climate where many see their work life as transient, people don’t have to follow any leader that they don’t believe in. So, what are the ingredients that make someone a leader people want to follow?
Purpose & Vision
People will follow a leader who drives direction within a business toward a purpose and a vision that resonates with them. On the one hand, this emphasises the importance of hiring people who share the relevant values of the business. On the other hand, it reinforces that leaders must be authentically connected to the purpose and vision that they are articulating to those that follow them.
Authentic connection simply refers to the fact that a leader truly buys into their own narrative for the business, and demonstrates a passion to achieve that purpose and vision. Many authors will identify presentation skills as a key asset for a leader. Whilst I don’t contest that being a great orator and storyteller can benefit a leader, speaking from a place of authenticity and passion is far more important than achieving the perfectly structured presentation.
Great leaders also work to ensure that people understand their contribution to the purpose and vision of the business. I’ve overused this example in many development sessions, but imagine a cleaner at NASA being asked by the President, “What is it that you do around here?” who answers, “Well sir, I’m helping to send the first man to the moon.” This one simple example shows the value of truly defining and narrating the purpose and vision of the business.
Is the purpose and vision of your business is clearly defined and explained in an easily consumable manner?
Think about whether the purpose and vision of your business is clearly defined and explained in an easily consumable manner? Do your people understand what part they play in achieving that vision?
Great leaders understand the importance of teams. A leader cannot be an expert in every discipline that’s required to make a business successful. If as a leader, you feel you have a better understanding of finance than your CFO, marketing than your CMO, or HR than your CHRO, you have the wrong people in those roles, or you have an inflated opinion of your own understanding of those areas!
Humour aside, the bottom line is that the over-riding requirement of a leader is to pull together an effective team of people to support key decision making for the business. Surrounding yourself with the right people (here we could examine team dynamics and ensuring that the balance of knowledge, experience, personality and shared values is present amongst the team), the job of the leader is to make that team work.
Getting the most out the leadership team that reports directly to you and the people that form the organisation under that team requires that you as a leader;
Get to know and understand each of the people that work for you; and
Respect their views, opinions and ideas (if you don’t, you again have to think about whether they are the right people?)
This facilitates a leader’s ability to get the best out of the team and maximise their engagement and wider employee retention.
An often-overlooked facet of a leader is final decision making. In a world where democratic leadership is held in high regard, some leaders, in my opinion mistakenly, believe that they need to achieve a high level of consensus on all business decisions. I’ve seen this issue in several companies and in every example it results in a level of inability to act or commercial paralysis.
Great leaders need to be brave enough to know that ultimately the final decision rests with them.
I suggest that the truly great leader is one who has high quality working relationships with their people, who can engage each of those people as required in discussion around key commercial topics, who can digest the advice of those subject matter experts, and then arrive at a robust decision that they can justify to their team. Great leaders need to be brave enough to do that, to be brave enough to know that ultimately the final decision rests with them. When needed, there is an ‘I’ in team!
Also, under the Team Playing banner, leaders and leadership teams must demonstrate that they live the values of the organisation. Nothing can cause a disconnect between leaders and their people quicker than some perceived level of hypocrisy. Lending from the current UK political landscape, recent revelations about political leaders espousing rules and regulations during the pandemic that they subsequently ignored behind closed doors, has significantly contributed to a change of leadership for the country. Leaders need to do what they say and say what they do. To the focus of authenticity that was listed earlier, we now add a focus on transparency and truth. With that in mind, and with reference to my earlier comment about decision making, leaders need to be brave enough to admit when they get it wrong.
Develop & Grow
Whilst there are numerous other skills, traits and practices of leaders that could be discussed (this article was only ever intended as a starting point of discussion), the final one that I’ll draw attention to is the fact that great leaders help their people develop and grow.
Great leaders look for opportunities for people to demonstrate or develop their skills, knowledge and abilities. This may take the form of simply agreeing a course of study, or engaging them in a project that challenges and provides a new experience. In the same manner, great leaders also acknowledge the need for their own growth and development.
It’s a dangerous thing for any leader to view themselves as the finished article, there are always skills that can be developed and practices that can be improved upon. I always encourage leaders that I work with to place a focus on reflective learning, taking time to reflect on the events of the day. Ask yourself;
What went well? What have I learnt that I need to keep doing and/or replicate?
What didn’t go well? How might I adapt what I do in the future?
What may have gone better if I had adopted a different approach?
This simple exercise can be the single most effective way to continue your own journey of development as a leader.
It may sound clichéd, but leadership is not a destination, it is an ongoing journey, and I hope this article has encouraged some consideration about what it means to be a leader. As ever, I’m eager to hear your thoughts and engage in discussion around this topic, so feel free to reach out to me directly for further discussion.
Richard Richie is Managing Partner & Director of Consulting Services at Alcon Maddox. He consults for tech companies on areas including general management, sales strategy, monetisation, building high performing sales teams, and how to cultivate a winning sales culture. Richard has written articles published in Arabian Business and The National Newspaper, and has been a panel speaker at Cityscape Abu Dhabi and appeared on Dubai Eye’s Business Breakfast radio show.