Many capabilities in life are a matter of acquiring skills and knowledge and then applying them in a reliable way. Leadership is quite different. Good leadership demands emotional strengths and behavioural characteristics which can draw deeply on a leader’s mental and spiritual reserves.
The leadership role is therefore an inevitable reflection of people’s needs and challenges in today’s workplaces. Good leadership depends on attitudinal qualities, – not management processes.
Humanity is a way to describe these qualities, because this reflects the leader’s vital relationship with people.
The qualities critical to the development of a leader’s relationship with people are quite different to conventional skills and processes.
1.3.1 Qualities found in an effective Leader
Leaders who demonstrate these behaviours and attitudes tend to have the ability to encourage others to engage with them. Employees are naturally drawn to leaders who exhibit strength and can inspire belief in others. These qualities, when genuinely demonstrated, tend to build confidence, esteem and self-belief in people. For some people leadership appears to come natural to them. However, most people who find themselves in a role where good leadership is critical to success, need to learn how to be effective in their leadership role. Leadership is not the exclusive preserve of “Born Leaders” and the necessary skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours can be learned and developed.
Leadership is a matter of personal conviction and believing strongly in a cause or aim, whatever it is.
Many qualities of effective leadership, like confidence, enthusiasm and the ability to inspire and motivate others, continue to grow from experience in the leadership role. Even initially modest leaders can become great ones, and sometimes the greatest ones.
1.3.2 Different Styles of Leadership
Leadership can be delivered with different styles. Some leaders have one style, which is right for certain situations and wrong for others. Some leaders can adapt and use different leadership styles for given situations.
Adaptability of style is a significant aspect of leadership, because the workplace is increasingly complex and dynamic. Adaptability stems from objectivity, which in turn stems from emotional security and emotional maturity. These strengths are not dependent on wealth or education, or skills or processes.
People new to leadership often feel under pressure to lead in a particularly dominant way. Sometimes this pressure on a new leader to impose their authority (or power?) on the team comes from above. Autocratic or Authoritarian leadership is rarely appropriate. By misreading a situation, and attempting to be overly dominant, a new leader can inadvertently start to cause problems. Individuals can become resistant to the new leader’s authority and performance can begin to reduce.
Lewin’s Leadership Styles
Psychologist Kurt Lewin developed his framework in the 1930s, and it provided the foundation of many of the approaches that followed afterwards. He argued that there are three major styles:
- Autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting their team members, even if their input would be useful. This may be appropriate in some situations when a quick decision is needed, but if used consistently, this style can be demoralising resulting in individuals feeling under-valued and used.
- Democratic leaders make the final decisions, but they include others in the decision-making process. They genuinely encourage creativity, and people are often highly engaged in projects and decisions. This can result in increased job satisfaction and improved productivity.
- “Laissez-faire” leaders give their people significant freedom in how they do their work, with high levels of responsibility, authority and autonomy. They provide support with resources and advice when needed, but otherwise they stay in the background, trusting their staff to achieve the required results.
Lewin’s framework is useful, but too simplistic for today’s workplace. There are many different styles that are out there in the “management world”, and it is easy to get confused by them – Transactional, Transformational, Servant, Enabling, Participative, Democratic, Autocratic, Consultative, Action Centred Leadership, to name a few of them and if you want to explore these further you can find more information about styles online.
It is important not to get too hung up on style names and different approaches because there is no “one size fits all” solution. By focusing more on the qualities, characteristics and behaviours attributed to successful leadership you will be able to identify your own leadership strengths and develop your own “style”. You will also be able to recognise those same qualities in others and therefore be able to help them develop their leadership capability.
“Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers”
Leadership is often more about serving than leading. Individuals and teams tend not to resist or push against something in which they have had strong involvement, perceived ownership and a sense of control. People tend to respond well to genuine appreciation, encouragement, recognition, inclusiveness, respect and honesty.
Tough, overly dominant leadership gives people a lot to push against and resist – and beware! – it also encourages them to use their creativity to find innovative ways of not conforming! Of course, leaders need to be able to make tough decisions when required, and when those affected by the change understand the whole picture and the reasons “why”, then those decisions are more likely to be perceived as fair and consistent, and subsequently more likely to be accepted.
Effective leaders concentrate on enabling others to thrive, which is a “serving role”, not the dominant leading role commonly associated with leadership.
1.3.3 Effective or Ineffective Leadership
Different leaders have different ideas about leadership. Here are some of those thoughts:
- Always, when leaders say that the people are not following, it’s the leaders who are lost, not the people.
- Leaders get lost because of isolation, delusion, arrogance and sometimes plain stupidity, but above all because they become obsessed with imposing their authority, instead of truly leading.
- Leading is helping people achieve a shared vision, not telling people what to do.
- It is not possible for a leader to understand and lead people when the leader’s focus is totally on their own needs and outcomes.
- Commitment given to a leader relies on that leader having a connection with and understanding of their people’s needs and expectations. You are more likely to get what you want from others, by helping them get what they want.
- The suggestion that loyalty and commitment can be built by simply asking or forcing people to be loyal and committed is not a basis for effective leadership.
- Prior to expecting anyone to follow, a leader first needs to demonstrate a vision and values worthy of a following.
- For people to embrace modern compassionate, honest, ethical, peaceful, and fair principles, they must see these qualities demonstrated by their leadership.
- People are a lot cleverer than most leaders think.
- People have a much keener sense of truth than most leaders think.
- People generally have the answers which elude the leader.
- People will generally forgive mistakes, but they do not tolerate being treated like fools.
- A leader should be brave enough to talk when lesser people want to fight. Anyone can resort to threats and aggression. Being aggressive is not leading.
Some Leadership tips
Jack Welch is a retired American business executive, author and chemical engineer. He was chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. During his tenure at GE, the company’s value rose 4,000%. He is quoted as proposing these fundamental leadership principles
- There is only one way – the straight way. It sets the tone of the organisation.
- Be open to the best of what everyone, everywhere, has to offer; transfer learning across your organisation.
- Get the right people in the right jobs – it is more important than developing a strategy.
- An informal atmosphere is a competitive advantage.
- Make sure everybody counts and everybody knows they count.
- Legitimate self-confidence is a winner – the true test of self-confidence is the courage to be open.
- Business has got to be fun – celebrations energise an organisation.
- Never underestimate the other guy.
- Understand where real value is added and put your best people there.
- Know when to meddle and when to let go – this is pure instinct.
1.3.4 Developing your Leadership Capabilities
As a leader you must know yourself. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, so that you can build the best team around you.
Plan carefully, with your people where appropriate, how you will achieve shared aims. You may have to redefine or develop your own new aims and priorities. Leadership can be daunting for many people simply because no-one else is issuing the aims – leadership often means you have to create your own from a blank sheet of paper. Set and agree clear standards. Keep the right balance between “doing yourself” and enabling others “to do”.
Build teams. Ensure you look after people and that communications and relationships are good. Select good people and help them to develop. Develop people and give them opportunities for new experiences. Agreeing objectives and responsibilities that will interest and stretch them and always support people while they strive to improve and take on extra tasks. Follow the rules about delegation closely – this process is crucial. Ensure that your managers are applying the same principles. Good leadership principles must cascade down through the whole organisation. This means that if you are leading a large organisation you must check that the processes for managing, communicating and developing people are in place and working properly.
Communication is critical. Listen, consult, involve and explain “why” as well as “what” needs to be done. Some leaders lead by example and are very “hands on”, others are more distanced and let their people do it. Whatever you choose – your example is paramount – the way you work and conduct yourself will be the most you can possibly expect from your people.
If you set low standards you are to blame for low standards in your people.
“Praise loudly, blame softly.” Follow this maxim and you will rapidly earn respect and trust among your people. Always give your people the credit for your achievements and successes. Never take the credit yourself – even if it’s all down to you, which would be unlikely anyway. You must however take the blame and accept responsibility for any failings or mistakes that your people make.
Never publicly blame another person for a mistake. Their failing is your responsibility – an effective leader will focus on the problem not the person.
Take time to listen to and really understand people. Walk the job. Ask and learn about what people do and think, and how they think improvements can be made.
Accentuate the positive. Express things in terms of what should be done, not what should not be done. If you accentuate the negative, people are more likely to veer towards it
Have faith in people to do great things – given space and time, everyone can achieve more than they hope for. Provide people with relevant interesting opportunities, with proper measures and rewards and they will more than repay your faith.
Take difficult decisions bravely and be truthful and sensitive when you implement them.
Constantly seek to learn from the people around you – they will teach you more about yourself than anything else. They will also tell you 90% of what you need to know to achieve your business goals.
Embrace change, but not for change’s sake. Begin to plan your own succession as soon as you take up your new post, and in this regard, ensure that the only promises you ever make are those that you can guarantee to deliver.
Leadership is without doubt mostly about behaviour, especially towards others. People who strive for these things generally come to be regarded and respected as a leader by their people:
- Integrity – the most important requirement; without it everything else will eventually fail.
- Having an effective appreciation and approach towards corporate responsibility, so that the need to make profit is balanced with wider social and environmental responsibilities.
- Being very grown-up – never getting emotionally negative with people – no shouting or ranting, even if you feel very upset or angry.
- Leading by example – always be seen to be working harder and more determinedly than anyone else.
- Helping alongside your people when they need it.
- Fairness – treating everyone equally and on merit.
- Being firm and clear in dealing with bad or unethical behaviour.
- Listening to and really understanding people and show them that you understand (this doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone – understanding is different to agreeing).
- Always taking the responsibility and blame for your people’s mistakes.
- Always giving your people the credit for your successes.
- Never self-promoting.
- Backing-up and supporting your people.
- Being decisive – even if the decision is to delegate or do nothing if appropriate – but be seen to be making fair and balanced decisions.
- Asking for people’s views but remaining neutral and objective.
- Being honest but sensitive in the way that you give bad news or constructive criticism.
- Keeping your promises – always doing what you say you will do.
- Working hard to become expert at what you do technically, and at understanding your people’s technical abilities and challenges.
- Encouraging your people to grow, to learn and to take on as much as they want to, at a pace they can handle.
- Always accentuating the positive (say ‘try it like this’, not ‘don’t do it like that’).
- Encouraging others to be happy and enjoy themselves.
- Relaxing – breaking down barriers and giving your people and yourself time to get to know and respect each other.
- Planning and prioritising.
- Using your time well and helping others to do so too.
- Involving your people in your thinking and especially in managing change.
- Continually developing your knowledge and skills in leadership.
- Achieve the company tasks and objectives, while maintaining your integrity and the trust of your people.
As a leader, your main priority is to get the job done, whatever the job is. You make things happen by:
- knowing your objectives and having a plan how to achieve them;
- building a team committed to achieving the objectives;
- helping each team member to give their best efforts.
To help you identify your own development needs complete our Leadership Self Assessment and then complete the Development Plan using the following template.
Personal Leadership Development Plan
The purpose of this Personal Development Leadership Plan is to help you build on the leadership assessment exercise you undertook to compare your leadership self-assessment to the assessments of others in your workplace. This document will help you to reflect on the results and create a plan of action to strengthen and develop your leadership skills in the areas you have identified as being key to your success as a leader.
Part 1 – Personal Analysis
Part 2 – Setting Goals
Part 3 – Personal Objectives
Download the Personal Leadership Development Plan (complete this and attach it to your answer to the question below)
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