As Henry Kissinger has observed, the skill of leadership is to make marginal decisions with imperfect information before others are comfortable doing so, taking a calculated gamble and being willing to stand alone first.
Many Prime Ministers had to do this as Covid-19 affected their country.
In our view true leaders are those who are not only effective in their job, but have a level of emotional intelligence such that it inspires others to live their best working lives, and who are remembered by many as one of the finest people they worked for.
Leaders manage by the authority of their position, but can only lead if people follow them. True leaders balance a focus on making their company thrive with the soft-skills that motivate and energise the people who actually make their company successful. True leaders are servant leaders, who are not afraid to cultivate leaders and difference-makers, not just followers. It takes time, energy and empathy to grow the capabilities and talents of your workforce.
In the cross-functional customer-centric world, the new leaders will be those whose followers see someone who CREATES:
- Community - identity with the tribes who deliver successive value
- Realist - clear direction of travel towards customer value
- Empathy - leading from a desire to better serve others, not to attain more power
- Authenticity - the real person, warts and all
- Trust - consistent actions that demonstrate fairness, realism and a steadfastness of purpose.
- Excitement - pushing the boundaries of what is possible, and having fun
- Significance - making a difference, trying something new.
Trust is an essential element of being a leader. Leadership and trust are rarely used in the same sentence, and trust has to be earned. Here are three things that an aspiring leader must do to build trust:
- Major on personal contact - people need to feel engaged and aware of the things that matter
- Explain values and motivations - people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and that is true of your staff too
- Deliver on commitments - people have little time for anyone who doesn't follow through on promises.
Note that this list does not include taking Control. A true leader resists taking control and differentiates between scenarios which require a decision to be made based on their experience and accountability, and one in which others are involved in coming to a position, and then a decision.
Note that this list also does not include Performance. The highest performing teams, including those performing roles where lives or wellbeing are at stake, value Trust over Performance in a leader or a teammate. No matter how good they are technically at their job, if you can’t trust them, you won’t be comfortable working with them. It is curious then to realise that most organisations grade and promote people based on their performance rather than the trust they exhibit. Why? In a corporate culture of reporting performance quarterly, the return needs to be better than last quarter, so the people who produce these high-returns are rewarded irrespective of the impact it has on the organisation. How easy is it to measure ‘trust’. Exactly. But an unfettered focus on performance builds a toxic working environment, whereas leaders who trust their staff build long-term performance.
Ambiguity and Complexity
True leaders deal with ambiguity and complexity. When matters become chaotic a knowledge-based or consensual response will be too long coming and the imperative must be to act to gain an element of control. If staff understand why a certain decision has been made, and then implemented, then trust builds, even if they don't necessarily agree with the actual decision.
Constancy, Congruity, Reliability, and Integrity.
True leadership requires vision … a vision that looks beyond the current reality. But the vision in and of itself does not breed trust. A true leader has to outline the way ahead and then stick to it, demonstrating constancy.
If you ever expect to be an effective leader, you simply cannot say one thing and do another. Your words and your actions have got to match. You walk your talk, all the time, no matter what. Anything less than total congruity raises doubts and lowers trust.
When there’s any question about someone’s reliability, it always lowers the trust level. True leaders build trust when employees are supported in the moments that matter. Your team know that they will have your support and guidance, and that you will be watching out for them and you are never absent without leave.
True leaders know that their followers trust them to follow through, to keep the commitments they made. Integrity comes from keeping promises.
Decisions and Communication
A key leadership skill is communication - it is easy to assume that if we know something and the context around it, then everyone else does too, so take time to create effective messages. Making the right decision, following through on it and communicating the reasons why are the mark of a true leader. Those who are genuinely interested and care about their people, helping them to feel safe, respected and listened to have the most productive and engaged staff.