The objective of this article is to look at leadership in more general terms. Another article looks at leadership as it relates to innovation in more depth.
What is Leadership?
I believe that this is a difficult question to answer, as there are probably as many different opinions as there are economists! A summarised view is:
· Leadership is setting strategies;
· Leadership is thinking;
· Leadership is being visionary;
· Leadership is getting things done;
· Leadership is being trustworthy and inspirational.
All of us probably think that we are great leaders when we review this list and compare it to how we conduct business and ourselves. If that is the case, then we would not have any bad leaders, and this is clearly not the case.
The question, therefore, has to be this. What makes a leader a good leader?
My simple answer is this. To be a great leader, it is necessary to demonstrate your commitment and understanding of the above points.
SETTING STRATEGIES, THINKING AND BEING VISIONARY
Leaders need to spend time setting strategies. In order to set strategies, they need to spend time thinking. They need to think of where the organisation has come from, where it is now, and, particularly important, where they want it to go in the future. Without this knowledge, the organisation is no different to a rudderless ship, weaving around the seas with no destination in mind, and therefore unlikely to get anywhere at all. Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision people perish”.
Having identified where they want the organisation to go, they need to articulate this to all stakeholders, both internal ones (employees and management) and external ones (analysts, shareholders, etc). Without this communication, the organisation will be pulled in all directions. Leadership is more than merely talking about the strategy. Leaders need to communicate it – they need to lead the stakeholders through said strategy. Good leaders can do this in an appropriate manner which all stakeholders can understand. It is not just about formal meetings, but includes informal one to ones, chats in the corridor, on the way to the car park, near the coffee machine, etc. Consistency is critical, do not give out mixed messages.
GETTING THINGS DONE
Any person holding authority can get things done. A good leader will utilise their skills to ensure that things get done, efficiently and effectively. This means that tasks are done utilising the right resources with the right result. Poor leaders, as I said, do get things done, but without being efficient or effective.
BEING TRUSTWORTHY AND INSPIRATIONAL
This is the most difficult aspect to understand or to develop. In my opinion, this is the facet which really sets great leaders apart from good leaders. These abilities are both critical. One looks inward at the leader (integrity) the other looks outward (being inspirational).
Trust is very difficult to create and extremely easy to lose. As a leader, ‘actions speak louder than words’, do what you say you are going to do. This builds trust.
So what do inspirational leaders share? Four qualities include:
· They selectively show their weaknesses – vulnerability can reveal approachability and humility;
· They rely on intuition to gauge appropriate timing and course of actions – an ability to interpret soft data is critical;
· They use empathy in dealing with employees – they care about what employees do;
· They reveal their differences – they focus on what is unique about themselves.
Being inspirational is all about getting the best from people. It will be noted from the four points that these are all soft things which can be done.
Finally, four popular myths about leadership:
· Everyone can be a leader – not true. Not everyone wants to be, so do not have the motivation.
· Leaders deliver business results – not always. If it was the case, stock pickers would pick companies with great leaders.
· People who get to the top are leaders – not necessarily. Those at the top may have got there on political acumen alone.
Leaders are great coaches – rarely. Can someone who is inspirational always impart knowledge?
Innovation for Growth is a UK business consultancy firm which specialises in: strategy services; innovation audits and advice; business plans and planning; and business research.