It seems to us that as we look around politics and business life, there is a real dearth of great leadership. But what do we mean when we say "great leadership"?
In Exigence's view, a ‘great’ leader should not be confused with either a famous (or infamous) leader. Leaders can achieve notoriety for all the right, but also many of the wrong, reasons. Leaders can achieve success through manipulation, threats, bullying and exclusion. To us, a truly great leader positively influences a group. They maximise human, financial and environmental capital, and then motivate those they lead to achieve great things.
A great leader does their job to the highest personal and ethical standards. In doing so, they gain the utmost respect from their peers and team, whether on the factory floor, running a scout troop or even leading a country.
Why do we need great leaders?
Great leaders are important to:
- Your team: The effectiveness of the majority is either positively or negatively impacted by their leaders. Research demonstrates that most people need, indeed want, to be led. Many have no desire to lead other people. That’s fine. But leaders of character will expect this broader group of people to lead themselves effectively, even if they (understandably) do not want to lead others. While there is some debate around whether a person would leave a job because of their leader, we know the experience of having a great leader and mentor in early years development, often stays with people throughout their entire career. And always remember that future great leaders may be members of your own team!
- Your organisation: According to The Business Management Report, 2017: “Employees who are happy and feel in control are 57% more likely to be engaged and 53% more likely to be productive.” Failing to recognise that most people are not interested or courageous enough to step up and lead, is the single greatest mistake of the organisations that I have worked with over the last twenty years. Where they think about people at all, organisations still subscribe to the idea that, “people are our most valuable asset”. They’re not. Leaders of character are your organisation’s most valuable asset!
So, do you have what it takes?
It’s my assertion that anyone can be a great leader. Some may have more challenges to face along the way, but being a great leader is accessible to all.
But to be a great leader requires you to look deeply at your ‘self’.
If you aspire to lead at any level, you need to take time to analyse your current skill set, embrace fully the idea of being a leader and commit to continually developing your ‘self’ to become the best leader you can be.
What areas should you focus on?
In our book, Leader iD, David Pilbeam and I codified four years of research into five key human characteristics of highly developed leaders:
- Discovery – You have a deep spirit and love of learning. You look for better ways of doing things, and shamelessly take ideas from one context and apply them to your own.
- Determination – Leadership can be tough. You are going to need huge reserves of resilience, energy and courage to lead effectively when times are challenging – which they most certainly will be.
- Perspective – Developmental psychology suggests that the more perspectives a person can hold indicates their levels of intellectual/emotional/cognitive/personal Challenge yourself to look at things from a different point of view.
- Balance – Are you able to hold things in balance? Can you really challenge your team while also providing support? Can you manage speed and reflection? The need for both action and consideration?
- Compassion – Your ability to be genuinely empathetic and supportive with those you lead.
Take action to become a great leader now
We believe that while we are all born with a range of abilities, the five characteristics above can be developed by anyone. But only if you build on your strengths, recognise and accept areas of improvement, and take time to work on those areas so they also become your strengths.
Practising your leadership is essential. Initially on yourself, then with your team. Work at leadership all the time. Reflect on success and failures. Why did you achieve the result you did? How could you have reached a different outcome? And don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, from peers, colleagues and your team.
In our experience, there are no shortcuts, to becoming a great leader. It is a lifelong commitment. But it is one that is within your grasp, if you’re prepared to focus on and develop your leadership ‘self’.