I find myself contemplating a topic I used to teach many years ago: Leadership. In the course of the developing that course I did extensive research reading literally dozens of books on the topic. (OK, I read 22 and three of them were pop-up books and another was a colouring book, but still it was a lot of work.) There’s no shortage of people who write books on leadership, even though there seems to be a scarcity of real leaders.
You don’t need a book – or even this article – to tell you what constitutes a good leader.
Most of you know intuitively what it takes to lead, so let this serve not as a “how to” guide, as much as a reminder of what it takes to be a genuine leader.
I guess I should begin by disclosing one of my most deeply held biases: Business leaders are born, not made. They are forged in the crucible of crisis and honed in the conference rooms of the corporate world. A person who does not have the traits to be a great leader isn’t likely to miraculously acquire them, but that’s a matter of opinion and fodder for a different article.
Dr. Wess Roberts in his 1990 work, Leadership Secrets Of Attila The Hun, identified seven key characteristics. Other authors have waxed on about the leadership styles of everyone from Genghis Khan to Kermit the Frog to Sitting Bull to Charles Manson. (OK, probably not Charles Manson.)
While there is anything but consensus on the topic, I’d like to submit the following subset of all the leadership dross that’s floating around out there. Let’s call mine “Leadership Secrets Phil La Duke Stole From Famous People.” (Just kidding, I don’t plagiarise.)
When I taught that leadership course, we covered 17 characteristics of effective leaders, and there might be more. But here are my top five favourites, the ones my experience has taught me are most crucial.
People are more likely to follow someone whose reactions are predictable. I’ve worked for some great leaders who were feared by one and all, blowing up when subordinates erred, throwing furniture at the walls, and calling underlings everything but a child of God. But those same subordinates worshiped these ogres with the reverence that the acid-addled deserters have for Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
Knowing exactly how your leader will react to your successes and failures allows you to take risks and behave with a minimum of stress. Patton may have slapped a soldier and Woody Hayes roughed up a player, but in both cases the people who followed each would willingly walk through the bowels of hell for him.
Harry Truman had a sign on his office that read: “The buck stops here.” It meant, “I am ultimately accountable for anything that happens on my watch.”
This is a refreshing sentiment at a time when baby boomer leaders belly ache about millennial entitlement, while at the same time blaming any and all their missteps on media misquotes, things being blown out of proportion, or a curse placed on them at birth by an evil troll.
How long before we can get back to leaders who say, “I did it. The blame is mine and mine alone”?
A good leader can be trusted. When we feel betrayed because a boss promised a raise or a promotion that didn’t happen, we become dispirited and have no motivation to make the sacrifices that same boss needs us to make. We may do what they tell us to do, but we may also engage in malicious obedience.
I once worked for an executive who told me that if I wanted to be promoted, I would have to leave the company. He explained that while I was a valued member of the team I would always remain a “sole contributor.”
I didn’t like the message but I was glad that he was honest with me. It was empowering knowing that no matter how hard I worked I was stuck where I was. It turned out he was wrong.
In part because I didn’t let his view of the world affect my performance, I ended up being promoted twice before leaving the company for greener pastures. I knew that I could trust him, not just to be fair with me but also to be honest and to tell me the unpleasant truths I needed to hear.
When Pancho Villa died, his last words were reputed to be, “It can’t end like this, tell them I said…something.” The best leaders have a clear and articulate vision for life. We know what they stand for. What’s more, a good leader can inspire us to put aside our own wants, needs, and desires in favour of a greater good.
This is why we revere military leaders so much. Generals have to inspire people to die for their visions. Think about that. Our bodies are designed primarily to keep us alive and well, and military leaders need to motivate us to do something that every cell in our central nervous system is telling us not to.
To lead is to make unpopular decisions that need to be made without regard to whether people are going to like it. I worked with a CEO who had to cut 400 jobs, a substantial portion of the workforce. I remember someone telling him that the people weren’t going to like it.
He looked them straight in the eye and said, “I don’t like it, but either we do this now or 5,000 people lose their jobs in six months.”
We don’t follow people because we like them – hell, I can think of a score of people I like who I wouldn’t follow out of a burning building. But there is a handful I would follow even when they seemed at odds with my values. No one follows a leader who is afraid to fail, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to admit mistakes, or afraid to lead.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
6 Ways To Lead In The Multi-leader Economy
Why business leaders today compete for mindshare among their employees, and how they can lead.
I recently attended an event where a CEO delivered the company’s annual results and outlined its future strategy. He closed the talk with some inspirational content to get the team excited about the year ahead.
While I listened to this business leader speak, I also had my eye on the audience. While the content was relevant and inspiring, the narrative and delivery was off. This was evident in the audience, who seemed disengaged – most had their faces in their phones. These employees, who should be inspired by their leader, were simply biding their time, waiting for the next speaker.
Was it because they’re generally rude, disengaged people? Not at all. In fact, they were a phenomenally switched-on crowd when we presented to them. So why weren’t they listening intently to the proverbial captain of the ship?
Leadership competition hotting up
I believe it’s because leaders today are competing for the attention of those they lead. People are exposed to hundreds of potential leaders in their daily lives, and that number grows daily as the internet brings a whole host of outside influence into reach.
While many of these influencers are not tasked with leading, per se, great leaders seldom have to force a following. They naturally build one through an innate ability. They achieve this by delivering inspiring and engaging content on a regular basis via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts or TED.com.
And it’s not just inspirational visionaries like Jobs or Branson who people listen to today. Anyone with a strong message can self-publish to spark debate, inspire or influence.
Understand the new dynamic
Accordingly, whenever a leader steps up to deliver something relevant to their team, they need to be aware that in the past 24 hours their audience has probably watched people like Simon Sinek, Mel Robbins or Will Smith deliver a message that could spark a different way of thinking.
If you’re a business leader and have not considered the possibility that your team is also being influenced and, often, led by a host of other leaders, then you’re in for a tough time. The reality is that leaders now face fierce competition, and as the head of an organisation you need to take charge and own that space.
Here’s how you can take the lead in leadership:
1. Maintain face-to-face engagements
This is still the best way to work, especially when talking about important matters. I have a standing one-hour meeting with my team every three weeks. I open this session with a 10-15 minute talk on a specific topic I feel is important. The remaining time is used for open discussion. These sessions have been incredibly powerful, because it’s an opportunity for everyone to have their say, share their views and contribute to growing the business and the team, together.
2. Write narrative that catalyses conversation
This pertains to the content of your engagements. This needs to be something that’s not only on your agenda, but also on your employees’ agenda. People need both answers and guidance, but when leaders and teams can work on both aspects together, magic happens.
3. Deliver with conviction
Leaders often throw out a concern, hoping that it gets resolved. You can’t do that. Leaders need to stand up and deliver with passion to galvanise their teams. Sure, be part of the conversation, and ensure that your team knows how important it this, but understand that it’s more than just a conversation.
4. Get them to challenge you
The proverbial ‘open door policy’ requires employees to walk up to the door. Our regular team session offers me the opportunity to ask everyone, collectively, about their thoughts on a subject. I’m basically standing at the open door and asking them to come in, and not just randomly, but to discuss something pertinent.
5. Make the changes required
After listening to your team, take action. Due to the influence of social media, society today is plagued by “ask-holes” – people who ask for advice or ideas, but never action them. Leaders need to listen and take action. Not that you should do everything you team asks, of course, but listening is the first step to understanding, and action needs to follow.
6. Rinse, repeat
Effective leadership is not an annual speaking engagement. It requires constant work to keep teams focused on the business. The biggest failure in most businesses is a lack of communication, which is something leaders need to constantly work on.
Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones
Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.
Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.
Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.
Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.
In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.
When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.
Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.
The Social Brain
Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.
We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.
The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.
When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.
Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.
Barriers to Inclusion
A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.
The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.
Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.
We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.
If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.
It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.
We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.
To Get A Job Or Not Get A Job. What Are We Teaching Our Children?
Remember the days where if you went to school and studied a degree, you got a job and built a career that enabled you to retire comfortably? I don’t, in fact I’m not sure those days ever really existed. If they did, they are long gone.
Today STATS SA tells us only 1 in 3 of the youth in South Africa have a job, even worse still – 34% of graduates aged 15-24 are unemployed1. The bottom line is that there are not enough jobs to cater for every child that finishes school. Our children need to learn entrepreneurship. If we want a brighter future for them, we need to nurture, teach and develop the skills and behaviours required to create jobs of their own.
With no intention of knocking the school system it would seem for the most part it discourages entrepreneurial thinking on a fundamental level; it prepares students to become good employees. Tuck your shirt in, sit still, stand in line, do your homework, focus on the task, check this box, you get the picture. Three decades ago this may have worked but it won’t work when we are trying to teach our children to survive the forth industrial revolution and prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist!
It may sound like a cliché, but kids are our future. As a parent I believe one of the most important duties we have is to give our children the best possible start. We need to prepare them on how to live, survive and thrive in a world that is rapidly changing, mostly unpredictable and often unforgiving. This starts by identifying the skills and nurturing the behaviours that will give them the best chance for success.
Teaching entrepreneurship prepares our children for the future
Entrepreneurship encompasses so much more than starting and running a business. It’s a shift in mindset, a different way of thinking. Entrepreneurship views problems as opportunities and fuels creativity in the pursuit of solutions. All these skills can be applied to life.
Successful entrepreneurs are resourceful, self-confident and tenacious. They are great communicators and marketers, good at identifying and understanding risk. They have learnt from failure and made mistakes. Entrepreneurs are financially literate, understand cash flow and how to manage money. Again, these are skills that every child and student can benefit from.
To make it in the workplace of the future you will need to be self-confident, innovative, creative, motivated and curious.
Employers will need to hire staff that have the creative ability to innovate and ensure the longevity of their organisations. Those people that show entrepreneurial flair will be in demand in a world that is ever and more rapidly changing.
Exposing our children to entrepreneurship, teaching them the fundamental skills and behaviours required to start a business, and letting them know it is a career choice should be a requirement in all schools and endorsed and supported by all parents.
- Youth unemployment still high in Q1: 2018 http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=11129
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