What is leadership?
There are numerous books out there to answer this vast question, courses you can attend, qualifications to gain and, yes, blogs to read. Ultimately, though, leadership is just taking someone from one place to another, by whatever means available.
Successful leadership, however… well, that requires a little more reflection.
What we understand now is that the traditional image of the sergeant major-type figure bellowing out orders, or an Al Pacino-esque, gut-wrenching five minutes of inspiration à la The Whole Nine Yards might be enough for short term gains but do not lead to sustained levels of excellence.
Of course, leaders need to be clear on what leaders do from a functional perspective. So let’s picture a board of directors in a £20 turnover SME. Good leaders will ensure they are all aligned in terms of their aspirations for the business and their expectations from each other and everyone else.
They will ensure direction is clear on a whole host of things to their people. From the long-term vision, to this year’s revenue targets, to key changes taking place. And they will ensure proper measurement is in place to allow success levels to be properly assessed.
They will ensure the business is sufficiently well resourced to achieve what they are trying to achieve.
Leadership behaviour, though, is where leadership development is probably the most effective. At PDW Group we have had some eye-watering, lump in the throat experiences over the years of when delegates experience moments that they describe as life changing, game-changing and revelationary to them.
These are often driven by the realisation that their perception of themselves is radically different to how other people see them. It is often about how their behaviour impacts on others, and how what they do could be so easily different if they had just better understood the other person(s) involved.
I have had a boss offer me a glass of wine during a line management meeting; another physically threaten me. I can safely say that I took neither example into my own practice! Reflecting on my own experiences of leadership in a variety of settings, as a leader and being led by others, the most effective individuals retain six essential personal qualities, regardless of their individual leadership styles.
A sprinkling of chives
“Neither philosophy nor empire takes away natural feeling.” Antonius, father of Marcus Aurelius
I make no apologies for loving an acronym, and there’s a really simple one to help remember these six qualities: C.H.I.V.E.S. Demonstrating just a little more of each in your approach to leadership will have a massive impact on your effectiveness as a leader, and the overall success of your organisation.
Courage. This can mean a whole range of things to different people: the courage to take calculated risks; of your own convictions; to stand up for what you believe. It takes leaders to have the bravery to step into the arena, to look in the mirror, to show humility, and to be action orientated to make the changes needed, both individually and collectively.
Humility. Too many people in leadership positions don’t fully appreciate the impact they have on those people directly around them, as well as the organisation as a whole that they lead. One moment of letting your guard down, of saying or doing the wrong thing, can have unintended and significant consequences. The ability to hold your hands up and admit when you’re wrong, the openness to another’s ideas and changing your mind – with full transparency, of course – if something hasn’t worked out as intended, is one that many leaders confuse with vulnerability. To be fallible is to be human. As Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter pointed out, “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”
Integrity. This is all about trust – yours in other people and theirs in you. The latter will only come if first and foremost you are true to yourself, to your moral compass. And without integrity, you will soon be found out. In the words of a certain E. Presley, “The truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” I’ve been in a position when I’ve had to hold my hands up and walk away from a position because to remain would have undermined my core beliefs and values in what was right. That was tough, but at least I can sleep easy at night. But integrity is also about acting in such a way that when you make those tough decisions, it is clear that you are doing so with the organisation at heart, even if they may not agree with you
Vision. As a headteacher, it was often very easy to fall into the trap of ‘firefighting’, dealing with the minutiae of the day-to-day running of the school. And of course, those things are important: absent staff, angry parents, Ofsted inspectors helpfully popping in… And the same is true of any organisation (generally without Ofsted or, one hopes, angry parents!) Vision is about keeping these things in perspective: learning from the past, keeping an eye on what is going on in the present, whilst always looking forward. “An appeal to our better selves,” says Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “a call to become something more.” Without that vision, we’re just clock-watching.
Empathy. When people knew I was a teacher, they would ask me what I taught. ”Children,” I would reply, to their consternation, thinking I was merely being by usual, awkward self. But to me, that’s what teaching was about; understanding the young people lent to me for a few hours each day to help them become better young people, not just to understand poetry or subordinate clauses. The better leaders I have encountered understand that people are at the heart of all we do – whatever industry we work in – and to not invest time understanding those people is, at best, a wasted opportunity. At worst, it’s negligent. The most analytical, straight talking, seemingly cold-hearted employee still has emotions, things s/he is passionate about, aspects of their work or home life that cause stress or anxiety. In a world where we communicate increasingly through electronic devices, any opportunity to build relationships – with employees, customers, other stakeholders – needs to be grasped with both hands. Get them right, and everything else becomes so much easier.
Self-awareness. At PDW, this is core to all we do. How can you understand others if you don’t understand yourself, or how others perceive you? If you are delivering what you think is one message, but your tone, your body language, your style are all sending a conflicting one to your audience, how can you lead effectively? How well do we really know ourselves?
Of course, none of these qualities are mutually exclusive; what they all have in common is that they are abstract and based on emotion and feeling. Precisely the reasons why too many leaders – or would-be leaders – steer away from them. In these more enlightened times, though, most people understand that showing emotion or understanding is not a form of weakness. Far from it.
What is leadership development?
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Winston Churchill
At PDW Group, we don’t just help develop all of these skills; we have a proven track record of success in doing so. Success demonstrated in concrete impact, ensuring that employee engagement ‘skyrockets’ and wellbeing, loyalty, productivity client advocacy all increase along with it.
And the financial impact on the business? Lower costs, higher revenues. The magic formula! From just changing how leaders lead, developing your leaders this can become a reality.
These are the areas where leadership development really gets going. It isn’t training because it’s almost a voyage of self-discovery.