The Nature Of Leadership
It no longer surprises me how many business owners and c suite executives struggle with leading their teams and organisations. Too often I hear business owners and executives tell me that people are their greatest’s challenge. Almost always when I dive a little deeper the problem in most cases are related to a lack of organisational culture and poor or no leadership.
Today I want to focus on the nature of leadership, and I plan to cover everything from responsibility, success and growth, to the key leadership traits required as well as self-knowledge.
What is the nature of leadership? What does it actually stand for? A leader can be defined as someone who people follow voluntarily. In my eyes, that’s the true essence of leadership.
Leadership is very much a process of inspiring others. Not just to work hard, but to accomplish the vision and goals of the organisation, group or cause, and the vision and purpose of the leader.
It is also a process of influencing others. Influence is about changing not only behaviour but also thinking and ideas. Again, this influence is used to achieve certain goals.
There are five primary sources of power that leaders use to influence others. The first is legitimate power, which is the leader’s position within an organisation. The second is rewarding power, where incentives are used. Then there is coercive power, which is fear-based. Then there is expert power, which is founded on your skills and experience; and finally, referent power, which comes from the trust and respect others have for you.
There are also a whole bunch of leadership styles, from autocratic through to laissez-faire. There tends to be a view that taking an autocratic approach is great, because you are the sole decision-maker, so you can take control of everything. The belief is also that being laissez-faire is really ineffective because you take such a hands-off approach. This is not the whole truth, in either case.
With power traits and leadership styles, you need to know how to shift through all of the different approaches. You’re not looking to be one type of leader. You’re looking for fluidity. And how do you shift through the different sources of power and leadership styles? By being aware of what they are and how they work. There is a direct correlation between the extent of your awareness and the quality of your leadership.
As every Marvel fan knows, with great power comes great responsibility. This means it is important to choose the sources of power and the leadership styles that suit you, your organisation, and the people you’re employing. This is because good leadership must be responsible leadership.
Dictators can be powerful leaders. They may be followed voluntarily, but one of their main sources of power is their willingness to use coercive influence to ensure those who do not follow voluntarily comply with their vision and purpose.
The really important part about responsible leadership is the use of non-coercive influence to shape a group, an organisation, or a set of individuals. This works not only to motivate their behaviour but also to define culture. For this reason, the ability to move through different sources of power and leadership styles is crucial. The key is knowing when and how to use them.
Companies that have great leaders have higher morale and lower staff turnover. These two factors make an enormous contribution to the success of a business because they show you’ve got your culture right.
The 2016 Gallup employee engagement meta-analysis shows that businesses in the top quartile are 17% more productive, have 70% fewer safety incidents, and experience 41% less absenteeism.
You can’t take a “one size fits all” approach to getting your culture right, though. The way you lead always needs to be informed by your environment. So if you’re a small business employing two people then the way you cycle through power sources and leadership styles is likely to be very different from the approach taken by the head of a large corporation.
There are a number of reasons for this. The most important of which is that the small business owner is probably a manager and a leader at the same time. And fundamental to understanding leadership is recognising the distinction between these two roles.
Both leaders and managers provide direction, but where leaders create an environment for change, managers maintain order. When you’re leading from the front, change can be part of your culture.
This is because where managers train, leaders teach. Effective leadership means your people become accustomed to change, they become resilient, they become quick to adapt, and eventually, they begin to innovate. Their ideas flourish, and this is central to the notion of wellbeing. The wellbeing of your people feeds back into having your culture right. And having your culture right feeds back into the success of your organisation.
Great leadership is about not being complacent. It is about wanting to move forward. The desire to learn and grow is central to generating that forward momentum.
Growthis fundamental to leadership. People often question me about why I continue studying. Their belief is that I don’t need it. The reason I keep on looking for new opportunities to learn is that I want to keep growing. Even in areas where I could be considered highly skilled, I’m looking for something that I didn’t know.
Lifelong learning is widely recognised as being of great importance. It can be summarised as ‘a continuously supportive process which stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire all the knowledge, values, skills and understanding they will require throughout their lifetimes and to apply them with confidence, creativity and enjoyment in all roles, circumstances and environment’.
When studying for my MBA, I found something unique and learned something amazing in almost every subject. Even in the subjects that I hadn’t believed would be useful, because I knew through practice rather than theory how to make them work for me.
I understood accountancy, but through study, I learned how to read numbers better and how to use cheat sheets around ratios. Managerial finance was epic. Even though I had previously worked in that sector, I gained a greater depth of familiarity with the language.
Learning is not just about facts, figures and techniques, though. I also learned a new level of self-confidence and self-belief, as a result of the lead professor using my work on spreadsheet analysis as a guide for other people taking the course.
The real beauty is that through this growth and continuous improvement, I have been able to apply what I learned directly to my leadership of what has become one of our biggest land development projects to date.
Great leadership isn’t only about your own growth. It’s also about demonstrating how others can grow. It doesn’t mean requiring others to emulate you, it means showing them the qualities that they can then apply to their own lives to create positive change. As Ganta & Manukonda state, it’s all about ‘motivating, motivating, and motivating’
However, in order to demonstrate to others the benefits and possibilities that arise as the result of growth too, you need to work on yourself. And the first step to growing as a leader is to develop your key traits.
So, what are the key leadership traits?
Right at the top of that list is awareness. Awareness of your external world, but also self-awareness. If you lack self-awareness, then you won’t be able to recognise which traits you naturally possess and can develop independently, and which traits you struggle with and require external help to master.
Decisiveness – If you are a person who sits on the fence, then you are never going to get anyone to follow you voluntarily. You have to know your own mind and have the ability to communicate your thoughts clearly to those around you.
Empathy – One of the lessons I instil in my younger managers, the ones who want to grow into leaders, is that they must have empathy. There are people in this world who need your help. They might not be the best people, but they need your help. You need to give them a lifeline.
As a leader, you will almost certainly find that there are times when you have members of staff who are going through difficulties in their personal lives. It is part of your role to work with them.
As well as being the right thing to do, by looking after your people you create a culture where they recognise that you are there for them when they’re doing it tough, which makes it much more likely that they will want to reciprocate and give back when you need them to make the extra effort. And then it builds, becoming an ever-increasing spiral of loyalty and trust.
These three traits are just the beginning, but they have already revealed a great deal about the fundamentals of great leadership.
As a business owner or c-suite executive, growth is so central to effective and responsible leadership. Developing key traits of leadership forms the foundation of that growth.
So, we have looked at awareness, decisiveness, and empathy. Now I want to explore other key leadership traits, starting off with one that is all too rare and this is accountability.
Wood and Winston note that accountability is central to both establishing and restoring trust and credibility. And yet so many leaders are not accountable. They would much rather handball their problems to those below them. We’ve seen a lot of that in the banking sector, and that’s what’s brought on the Royal Commission.
One key trait that impacts everyone at some point is confidence. In terms of leadership, if you lack confidence then you need to go and source help. It’s not a weakness. It happens. Leaders are people, and pretty much everyone goes through periods where their confidence takes a hit. However, when you are not confident, it is much harder to exhibit all the other traits that are required to lead effectively.
One of the first things to take a dive when confidence is low is optimism – I used to be a crazy-ass optimist. Which is not to say that I have lost confidence or become a pessimist. It’s simply that when you take a lot of punches and become resilient, you realise that optimism is not what people believe it to be.
In my view, optimism means having the foresight to know that things can change positively. It isn’t a false optimism where you’re constantly high-fiving and talking about how the law of the universe is rockin in your favour. Those are just words. Genuine optimism is working out how to help the universe help you, with the knowledge that things can change.
Honesty – I’ve met so many people who are full of shit. Your people need to know that you will follow through on your promises and commitments. The greatest challenge as leaders, though, is not always in relation to being honest with others. It can often be a question of being honest with ourselves. Which means looking in the mirror and taking ownership of your failings. This comes back to accountability.
Focus – It’s funny. I mentioned the importance of focus in a lecture I was giving, and they all looked at me sideways, as if to say, ‘that’s a bit rich coming from a guy with fifteen different interests.’
My response was that just because one person can only focus on one thing, that doesn’t mean it is true for everyone. Self-discipline is key to focus. It means that I now can do more than one thing at a time. How? I call it the B.O.S. and it’s my business operating system which I know teach my clients.
If you want to become a fantastic athlete, although the natural talent does have to be there, without training you are unlikely to have the focus that takes you to the highest level of success. Essentially, focus is about growth.
Finally, in terms of key leadership traits, comes inspiration. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be an inspiring leader. Introverts make some of the most inspirational leaders of all time. As Collins puts it, ‘They are timid and ferocious, shy and fearless. They are rare and unstoppable.’
Look at Richard Branson. When he gets up and talks, he’s brilliant. But he’s had to practice that. It works because he’s speaking his truth, and so he can, even though he’d rather be sitting on his island, he can speak in a way that resonates with people.
There are lots of introvert leaders who are phenomenal at inspiring people, but it takes practice. People say that leadership comes naturally, and for some people that is true, but even for these people great leadership requires practice.
Which takes us onto perhaps the most important quality that any leader can possess. This is where one of the greatest truths about leadership comes into play. And that is the importance of knowing yourself. Reflection doesn’t need hours of work every week. Reflection is something that happens over the course of a lifetime.
Once you develop self-knowledge, you can take two approaches. One is to understand your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. In my view, this is fundamental, but not critical. The other approach is to improve on your strengths. This is critical. Then you pay people to cover your weaknesses.
For years I was told it’s all about your corporate SWOT. Well, why not turn your corporate SWOT into a personal SWOT. How many people have ever done a SWOT analysis on themselves?
One of the things that I do when I coach clients is to do a SWOT analysis on them. So, they will go through their strengths and weaknesses, and their opportunities and threats, and there will be loads of strengths and very few weaknesses, and tons of opportunities, and zero threats. Why? Well, it’s not because they’re perfect. It’s because they’re not reflective, and they don’t have that depth of self-knowledge.
There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging you’re a fuck-up in certain areas. Once you’re acutely aware you suck at certain things, you can employ people to do those things for you.
If you are terrible at organising your calendar, then get a PA. You’ll make your money back tenfold because you’ll be held to task. People may say that it’s easy to hand out this advice when you can afford it. I couldn’t always afford it. I made it happen. Because I have a vision, I have a goal, and I know where I’m going.
Leaders need to think a bit like a chess master and a scientist. A chess master has hundreds of possible moves in their head before they even begin playing. For every move that the opponent plays, there are considering between three and seven counter moves. It’s all maths.
Maths alone is not enough though, and this is where the scientist comes in. The scientist is constantly innovating. So where the chess master is seeing between three and seven possible moves, the scientist is looking for the eighth move that hasn’t yet been discovered.
It’s all a part of being proactive rather than reactive. And so, while the scientist is looking for that eighth move, the chess master comes back in, because even when you’re innovating, it has to be in line with your grand plan.
To lead effectively, you need to have a plan. And you need to stick to the plan. Sometimes people tell me that I stick to the plan to the point where it is going nowhere. That is because they don’t know the plan. In order for your plan to be effective, you need to make a long-term commitment. You can’t be impatient.
When you have a long-term plan, whether that plan is twelve, twenty-four or thirty-six months, then it brings you clarity. And even if people don’t know the plan, they will see the clarity. You don’t need to impress anyone. You can keep quiet about what you’re doing.
However, as much as you need to have a plan, you need to be open to new experiences. Innovation needs to drive you, and so the scientist comes back in. Work out what you can do better. It’s about continuous improvement.
By developing your key leadership traits and understanding the different sources of power and leadership styles, you can become a great leader. This is true even if leadership doesn’t come naturally to you. To be a great leader you don’t have to be the life of the party. Introverts and extroverts can both be successful. You just need to find the path to success that matches your personality.
And this is why you need reflection, self-knowledge and growth. 95% of successful entrepreneurs and leaders invest in themselves through coaching and education.
To be a great leader, you need to invest in yourself. You can’t be a drop-out when it comes to you. As Edison said, ‘Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’
When you’re looking for a coach or a mentor, you’ve got to find someone you want to be like. Find the people who will help you grow. If you’re looking to be better, then pick someone to help you who already is better. They don’t have to be better at everything. They just have to have a high level of skill in the area you are looking to develop.
If money is a worry, shift the focus to what you’re going to get out of it. You don’t need to have a coach for a year. Sometimes you only need a coach for six to eight sessions, just enough to change your attitude and mindset. You’ve got to take the approach that you’re going to be ok, and the way to be ok is to keep learning and keep growing.
As an advisor to many firms and an executive coach to business owners and c-suite executives it’s critical you find someone who pushes you, holds you accountable, occasionally kicks your arse but above all cares about you and your business. They need to know where you are and where you are going, they need to help you get really clear about your vision and goals so you can lead you people and they can follow you voluntarily.
It’s not about the destination. Forget about the destination, because if it was about the destination all you’d be looking forward to is death. That’s the only thing that’s going to be there at the end.
The point is how you get to death. And if you continue to learn and grow so that you become a truly great leader, then the legacy you leave will be remarkable, and the mark you make will be permanent. Because ultimately, responsible leadership is not about how much you can get from this world. It’s about how much you can give.
If you are in business or you are a c suite executive struggling to take control, you lack freedom and you have no time then it’s likely that you are not leading and that you are carrying the weight of your organisation on your shoulders…alone!!
It doesn’t have to be like this… I promise you that if you dive a little deeper on the themes in this article, you will begin to uncover a few unknown unspoken problems and opportunities in your leadership approach.
If you don’t want to do it alone get in touch with my team and let’s see if I can help you.
Until next week, live with purpose