One of the most needed skills at the moment in both business and government is leadership. In more stable times management tends to be prioritised because management delivers reliability. In stable times leadership is often annoying as leadership is fundamentally about change, so it is de-prioritised. Also leadership is seldom encouraged at schools as it often perceived to challenge the authority of teachers.
There are myths around leadership: That it is an appointment, that leaders are born, the “loneliness of leadership”, leadership is hierarchical.
There are errors in our approach to leadership, for example having people specialise in operational tasks for the first 10 years of their career and then expecting them to be able to lead others in their operational speciality.
Over decades these factors have combined to mean that there is a very widespread lack of competent leadership in society. In fact the only place in our society that takes leadership seriously is the Military, partly by offering real leadership experience from a young age. So let’s debunk some myths and build our understanding of the nature of leadership.
Leadership is a skill that has to be learned, it is not something we are born with. All of the best leaders that you will ever meet have worked hard at it. The myth that leaders are born comes from the fact that “Boss Style” leaders are by far the most common in human history and that they use bullying and coercion as their primary mode of leadership, their primary motivation is their own status. Boss Style leaders can be effective in the short term, however they only create value by stealing from the future.
The reality of leadership is that it is a choice not an appointment, that is it a skill that we deploy when change is required and that it is not hierarchical. We all lead in that moment when we recognise the need to change something, once we have reached a point of stability we shift to management to maintain reliability, when we see someone else doing something great we might follow them, turning them into a leader. Great leadership is dynamic, it flows to where it is most relevant in the moment, it is not fixed in an individual or a hierarchy.
Whatever style of leadership we adopt the thing that turns us into a leader is when one or more people follows us. Boss style leaders create loyal followers by conferring status upon them, boss style leaders have their status conferred on them from “above”. Authentic style leaders make the choice to lead and create loyal followers by pursuing a purpose that they and others believe in.
Great leadership is a complex and subtle skill that takes decades of diligent study and practice to master, however there are some core attributes that can help any of us get started on the journey to mastery, For example:
Create mental and emotional bandwidth. Even in extreme situations we must be capable of creating the space to think strategically, to confer with stakeholders and followers and work out what the next steps are and to collaborate to execute on them. To do this we must take responsibility for our time, continually delegating and deleting activities that don’t add value to the pursuit of the vision.
Articulate and embody a vision that inspires all stakeholders. A vision is a memorable description of a future state that followers are inspired to achieve. A vision is a definable destination that is beyond what we currently know how to achieve. If we know how to achieve it, it is an objective rather than a vision. Great leaders will continually inspire followers with the ideal of the vision.
Great leaders are expert at their own emotional regulation, even in highly stressful situations or when receiving bad news they are able to compartmentalise their own emotions to stay calm and focussed, rethinking the approach to stay focussed on the vision.
Related to our own emotional regulation is a focus on creating a culture of psychological safety. Psychological safety is that experience when we feel completely comfortable being ourselves, sharing ideas even if they are different and raising concerns even if they have consequences. Teams and cultures which experience psychological safety are proven to out perform other teams (See Google’s Project Aristotle). Only authentic style leaders create an environment of psychological safety by making it safe for everyone in the team to also be authentic.
Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.
At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.
Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.
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