3 people at the top of a mountain



For me, true leadership can be summed up as ‘continuously providing an environment where people can be high performing individuals’. Leadership is everywhere and comes in many guises from Parent to Prime Minister, but this overarching principle holds good for them all.

It is never about the leader. A parent does not look after and care for their children to be recognised as a great parent, they are motivated by love and to give their children the best chance to have a happy and rewarding life. It is all about helping them maximise their potential.

In a business environment leadership requires a great deal of self-esteem. Self-esteem requires a journey through self-awareness and self-confidence. It isn’t about who you want to be, it’s about who you really are, getting comfortable with that person and using your talents to best effect.

Most people never attempt this process for themselves. When I mentor people along these lines it is a life changing event. Getting comfortable in your own skin is massively important and often takes a long time. If you don’t have self-esteem, being in charge does become about you because you will be gripped by ‘Imposter Syndrome’, a fear of failure and other negative influences on your mind-set. 

Recently I was chatting to Get Knowledge Co-Founder Lee Houghton and discovered that we both set ourselves the same three challenges every day – to be happy, to be ourselves and to do our best. Can you imagine the performance of a team with those three goals every day?

Not surprisingly, Get Knowledge works with clients to create a FACT environment, where FACT is an acronym for Fun, Authentic, Caring and Trust.

There is not a ‘one size fits all’ leadership model. All humans are unique and therefore each one needs to be considered individually, including the leaders. However, there are some ‘must haves’ for great leadership. You need to be able to answer “Yes” to the following questions:

  • Do your team know what is being attempted?
  • Do your team know what their role is in achieving this goal?
  • Have your team been adequately trained for their tasks?
  • Have they got the technological support to be high performing?
  • Are they fired up?

I also believe that people can respond favourably to a leadership style of ‘hard, but fair’. The fact is that if the leader is weak then everybody worries about how safe their job is and there is nothing more demotivating than working very hard and watching somebody else get away with doing nothing and being rewarded the same as you.

Great leaders know when to intervene and grab control and when to let the team express themselves. The team need to believe that their leader can help them fix anything. It’s a great comfort blanket and gives people the confidence to push on beyond their comfort zones, especially when linked to a lack of fear.

There should be no fear of failure. When mistakes are made or things don’t go as expected they should be mitigated by the team as swiftly as possible, lessons identified and shared, leaving a wiser team to keep marching forward.

Respect. This might be the most powerful word in any business relationship. Without it everything is hard work. In my world everybody is entitled to basic respect, whatever their role, until they prove to be unworthy of that respect.

No discussion of leadership would be complete without reference to the Dunning-Kruger Effect -where people are not only incompetent; their incompetence robs them of the mental ability to realise just how inept they are. Incompetent people tend to overestimate their own skill levels and descending from the summit of Mount Stupid is not a fun thing to do especially as, trust me, the team will know. Proper leaders don’t try to ‘blag’ their way through with their team. They say “I don’t know, but I have absolute faith that this team has the ability to find the right answer”.

Sadly, I rarely come across great leaders. There are many reasons for this, starting with the fact that the skills that get you into a leadership position are often the opposite of what you need to perform the role.

I have seen examples like this so often in my career. A company needs a new sales manager, so they appoint the best salesman. The things that make them a great salesman make them an awful sales manager, so the company loses out twice – bad leadership and losing their best salesman!

As with all other problems, bad leadership tends to start at the very top. There are basically three ways to get to be a CEO – you/your family own the company, you come up through the ranks, or you get recruited in via head hunters or standing out in a role in another company. On any of those three routes, how much time will have been devoted to learning communications skills, empathy and psychology? History says rarely a lot.

That can mean that any leader within the company who wants to demonstrate great leadership is frustrated by a boss who just doesn’t get, or see, the value of what is being proposed. Most organisations are obsessed with tangible ‘measurables’, not the soft ‘fluffy’ stuff!

I remember being in an company a long, long time ago as head of the Cost Accounting department. As part of the annual budgeting process I had to submit a training budget. I put down the usual day release for the part qualified accountants and for myself I asked for a course in industrial psychology.  My boss was incredulous. I said “but if I manage people I need to understand what makes them tick”. My submission was rejected, but I had the vision to pay for it myself. It was money very well spent.

We are living in a time where great leadership has never been more necessary or harder to achieve. The speed of change and the rapid advance of technology call for agile, outward facing, teams who feel a strong sense of commitment and purpose. If you are a leader that does not truly care about the success and wellbeing of your team as individuals this is not likely to be the case and if your organisation does not have, or seek, these attributes the end game is already pretty much determined.





1 Comment

  1. Derek Fremd

    Terrific article! I learned a lot and being part of teams I could relate to much of what you wrote


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