Do your leadership styles make things happen or do you just let them happen? Does your team know what you are shooting for and what their part is in helping (you) achieve that?
(How) Are you Leading (Audio)
How active is your leadership? Do you make things happen or do you just let them happen? Do you “manage” your people or your projects or do you lead them to (your) required outcomes? Does your team know what you are shooting for and why and what their part is in helping (you) achieve that? Are they inspired by your vision or just going through the motions because they have to? If I were to ask them about your leadership style, what might they say?
Background to leadership styles
I have seen leadership defined in a few ways:
- That it is a state or a position of being a leader (as in the leader has been conferred the responsibility of leadership over others)
- That it is the action of leading a team of people (and resources) to an outcome (that is the pro-active guiding and directing them there)
- That it is the influencing of “others” by an individual (or leadership team) to accomplish a purpose or goal.
Of course we also have many other forms of leadership like thought leadership and market leadership and process leadership that are outcomes that have to be led to over time, and which inevitably involve resources, including people. Not all of you are leaders of other people, but I believe that in many ways we are all leaders (that is influencers) of outcomes.
A project manager for example may not be designated the direct leadership over all the people and resources he or she is project managing, but they are made responsible (if not accountable) for the required project outcomes. This often necessitates great skill in that they need to influence others (including competing stakeholders) to behave in certain ways without actually having any authority over them.
To me, in a nutshell, leadership is the achievement of required outcomes through others.
I don’t believe that you can achieve leadership without delegation, otherwise you’d end up having to do everything yourself.
I like to use the simple example of someone starting out on their own in a business, where they themselves have to do everything that is required such as designing, developing, building, marketing, selling, implementing, running, supporting, servicing, accounting, banking, reporting etc etc, right? As the business venture grows, at some point, all these tasks become too much for one person to handle and they have to engage others to help, be it through contracting certain tasks out for example to casual labour or contractors or outsourcing parts to other organizations, whereby some of the risks are shared. However, depending on your business model, ultimately we end up having to make an employment commitment to others, whereby we carry all the risk that there is enough revenue to cover their expenses and turn a profit. That of course is delegating tasks you used to do to them and making them responsible for the outcomes you need them to achieve.
May I just quickly clarify three very important words at this juncture?
- Accountability. As the leader (in the above example, owner) you remain accountable, always. The buck stops with you, no matter who you delegate what to.
- Responsible. You will delegate the responsibility of some necessary tasks to another or to others, making them responsible for those required outcomes. They are now the owners of the tasks and need to have the will, skills and competence (and capacity) to carry them out. Good management (and leadership) suggests that no two people should own the same task. A key aspect of such leadership delegation is for the original business owner to “let these tasks go”, lest they cause confusion and frustration.
- Authority. Every delegated task needs to have the required authority to act and make decisions and expend or invest in resources to enable the tasks to be carried out. If they have to come back to you for decisions all the time you haven’t really delegated. If you have “given them too much rope” they can risk “hanging” themselves, even your company if they are acting beyond their competencies. This is where the management of risk becomes so important, and where the right balance often differentiates motivation from frustration and success from failure.
Leadership styles – art or skill?
First of all leadership to me is an attitude. Whilst a leadership role or task can be conferred or given to someone, nothing happens until that person actually does something to lead those that need to follow. It has to be taken. I have learned that there are a few fundamentals that enhance leadership into an art.
Firstly I believe there needs to be clarity of vision. Everyone needs to know “where we are going” and if possible understand the why and also the how. And preferably that they are inspired by the vision and the goal so as to enthusiastically want to be part of its achievement. Many success stories also suggest a good degree of their people having been involved in developing the vision to be a differentiator.
Secondly I think everyone in the team needs to know their part in what it is going to take to achieve that vision.
Thirdly, everyone needs to be equipped to be able to carry out the required tasks that will lead to the outcome. And as I suggested in the blog Procrastination that to do a task we need to believe that we can do it lest we wouldn’t commit to it if we didn’t. We need to believe it is worth doing, be prepared to put in the necessary preparation and practice and also that we deserved its results.
Fourthly I believe that good leadership knows what needs to be done (and what doesn’t need to be done) to assure ongoing progress towards the goal.
And fifthly, leaders will celebrate the success of the outcome with everyone involved.
However, to me the art comes from knowing when and how to adapt our style to match and meet different circumstances as they materialize so that we can drive the very best out of those we lead and inspire.
People working for and by themselves need to communicate their vision to their prospects and customers and maybe business partners like vendors. However as soon as other people are involved in carrying out the business internally, communication becomes so much more important. We can’t assume people to know our vision and mission and the way we would like things to be carried out. We have to tell them and to teach them and to keep reminding them, don’t we? Easily and often forgotten.
Continuity and consistency
Another area I see so many leaders fall down in is that they keep chopping and changing, which if coupled with poor or inadequate communication can seriously confuse, frustrate and disrupt everyone. Developing a vision and leading others to its achievement with consistency becomes an important ally towards success. Of course the market and other competitive circumstances will necessitate ongoing changes in strategy and tactics, but not at the expense of the overall vision or direction. And even if that does occur in the form of say a market paradigm shift, it isn’t going to be weekly or monthly, is it? However, whatever the frequency, a key attribute of good leadership is to keep everyone informed of what we are doing, what changes we are making and how well we are progressing towards our goal. That way everyone knows we are on track and if we aren’t, what we are collectively doing towards ensuring that we get back on track. Communication. Leadership.
So the above would suggest that if we are going to lead a group of people to the required outcomes that we would need to have the right people with the right levels of skills and competence and with the right attitudes in the first place, right? Solid selection and recruitment are the basis for matching the right skills to the right requirements and not “giving jobs to mates”.
And over time, we would need and want to grow their skills and competence by developing them through training (self and in the classroom) and growing their experience base by growing their exposure to many different opportunities where they can learn “on the job”, provided they are the kind of people I speak about in Are you a “fetch” person? and Cause and Effect and many other previous blogs.
The right reasons
So assuming we have clarity of vision and purpose as well as the right mix and balance of skills to requirements as well as a commitment in what I call “a learning organisation” to develop these resources and thereby grow your business, we are well on our way. Is that it, or is there more to it?
Anyone who has led others will know how hard maintaining the ongoing growth and leadership can be, right? Why? Because we are dealing with people. People who do things for their reasons, not yours.
I believe that leadership is both skill as well as an art. One key aspect of good leadership is achieved by having your people reach your goals for you but for their reasons. That entails knowing their What’s in it for me? and consistently reminding them of that, so they enthusiastically get you your results for their reasons.
Which brings me to another key component of good leadership – performance management. Success breeds success and everyone loves being part of a winning team. Teams win when they are made up of the right combination of skills and motivation to pursue and achieve the desired outcome; and when everyone is “pulling their weight” towards that achievement. That’s much easier when all those aspects are in play and in Balance. It becomes much harder to lead such a team (as coach or captain) when there is imbalance, either in skills or attitude or both.
In business I have learned that it is the leadership (and performance management) of the prevalence of lacking performance that is one of the biggest differentiators between a motivated and a demotivated team.
It is at this point, where everyone is watching you – the leader: your bosses, your peers, your weak subordinates and your strong subordinates; each from a different perspective. Some will be testing you. Every one of them will be expecting you to act, and not allow any situation of under-performance to drift. Doing or not doing something about it not only prevents or lets the situation drift, it has the good ones saying: “well if they get away with it, why should I bother” and so the poison begins to spread. Doing something about it has everyone see your leadership works and that you are taking leadership.
I have learned that knowing when and how to let go and how and when to tighten the screws is the art, often based on intuition, but one demanding consistency of treatment, so that we are always seen to be fair, even when we have to be really tough. Even if some people find it difficult, dealing with poor performance is an absolute necessity and can (and should) have the effect of inspiring everyone, the perpetrators and the “spectators”.
So what is your position on leadership? Are you acknowledged to be a strong leader but fair? When do you feel your leadership weaknesses coming to the fore?
What is your leadership style? Are you known to be more easy going and relatable and easy to approach and talk to or are you seen to be more distant and less communicative? Are you more authoritarian and expect to be followed or can you be more sharing and motivating so that others follow you out of inspiration?
How clear is your vision? How clearly do your people know, understand and pro-actively help you pursue that vision? Do they live your culture or are they cynical about it?
Are you far removed or would your people acknowledge that you live “close to the ground” and in touch with what matters “on the ground”, also to them?
How well do you deal with poor performance? Are you in denial of it or do you “nip it in the bud”?
All these questions are leadership style attributes, aren’t they? How well do you rate yourself across them all? And how well would your people rate you? Depending on how you (and they) were to answer these questions would be a great indicator of whether and how well you are leading, wouldn’t it?
So if not (yet), why don’t you start really (pro)actively taking leadership? Isn’t this what leading business success is all about?
Susan D'Mello says
Heiner, I find your articles truly inspiring ! And Unfortunately I have found them existing in large companies very rarely.