What is Leadership?
In 2020 the need for leaders (and good ones at that) became paramount to success and survival of businesses both large and small.
Let’s begin with why it’s perhaps so difficult to answer the question? Every time you read or hear about ‘great’ leaders certain names are quoted, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Jacinda Ardern, who has been widely praised through the COVID-19 pandemic. Is this the first issue? How can we, as individuals ever hope to reach these dizzy heights? We need to break leadership down so that we all have a chance to shine and consider what we need to do.
The facets of leadership and management are often seen as the ability to inspire, set a clear vision while having human qualities around empathy and humility and the ability to motivate and develop others.
When I look back at my life and career the people who have truly ‘led’ me are those special individuals like an inspiring teacher, a boss who took those extra moments to bring out the best in me and my parents who helped me shape the life I currently lead. Now, these people are all within reach as are the actions they took and so the barriers to being a leader become easier to overcome. If we can all consider and implement the small actions that inspire and lead, we perhaps all have the chance to lead.
Think about that person who came to your mind when I asked about those ‘special people’. What was their role? What did they do to help you? How did they work with you? What one thing jumps out for you as memorable? Lock those things in your mind and imagine yourself doing the same things.
Let’s consider how we can all ‘act like leaders’ and begin to move in the circles we aspire to be in. The following are key things all great leaders do:
- Communicate - Leaders all have that skill of cascading a message so that people understand and take it forward. Deliver your message and vision consistently and practice. Watch people and learn how they deliver their messages.
- Stay flexible – There’s no ‘right’ way. Leaders learn to be agile and flex when the situation changes. It might not be the wrong thing, but just a different thing.
- Help people – Whether it’s through knowledge or skills you have, to opportunities you can offer. Help people get better, they won’t forget.
- Listen to others – Other people will have good ideas too, so take on these ideas and use them. Build a solid network, and you will become a better leader.
- Make mistakes – Whilst seeming counter-intuitive, this is important. If you set the bar at perfection, you will scare others rather than inspire. Go back to the people who inspire you - I’m pretty sure they’ve all made mistakes.
These five things won’t turn us into the next Steve Jobs alone, but they will inspire and help others. This creates a baton that others can run with and in turn, help others.
Sometimes you don’t even know you’re leading, you didn’t set out to do it, it just happened. Classic signs of the accidental leader include:
- Being approachable. People are happy to come and chat to you and seek advice or help.
- Maintaining a positive attitude. You stay calm and controlled under pressure and recognise opportunities.
- Driving improvements. You’re not afraid to give some tough feedback to a friend or colleague.
- Acting with determination. You have a desire to get stuff done because you know others need it done.
- Keeping an open mind. You take people at face value and form your own opinions.
- Balancing confidence with vulnerability. You’re confident but also not afraid to ask for help (this links directly with the vulnerable and confident leader, a key trait in Hemsley Fraser’s leadership model)
- Being authentic. You genuinely care about others.
All people can be encouraged to take the lead at various times but do remember that some people won’t feel ready or perhaps want that opportunity. That’s fine too!
In the current climate creating a team with a sense of belonging will encourage others to take the lead. Asking people how they want to be lead, how they want to work and how they want to socialise can all encourage people to lead themselves and others.
If you have a clear and compelling mission and values, the people around will share that passion and in turn, take that forward to others. You will create a movement for your beliefs and ideals which will cascade. Think about how momentum grows across countries and continents with the simple build-up of a message and people willing to take it forward and lead others.
The more people you can have around you willing to help and lead, the less the burden comes down to one set of shoulders. You lead, you inspire and you shape others to be the best they can be – you don’t do everything!
And so leaders are just people like you and I. They are not superhuman, although from the outside they can often look like they are. They simply do the fundamental things well.
Go back to those things that inspired you years or just weeks ago. Ask yourself if you can help other people the way you were helped by a leader. I’d imagine the answer is yes. Be a leader today because tomorrow you will have created another.
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