The Bedrock of Leadership

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There are endless books, blogs, vlogs and podcasts on what makes a great leader. Trust me I eat up a lot of what’s out there through my Automobile University. I’m also lucky to have been in leadership roles for many years and I believe there is no substitute for real life experience. Learning from success, but more so from mistakes, is invaluable. Education through literature, and talking and listening to amazing leaders is really valuable, but there is no substitute for experiencing the real world. Experience gives you everything! It’s amazing how pressure can drive your behaviour and how emotions affect you. When your decisions affect others, good and bad, it’s the emotion that sticks with you, not the words. It’s the consequence of your decision that in-grains itself into your mind. Seeing how your decision impacts others can make you soar like a bird or rip your guts out, and everything in between. Leadership is always a knife edge, every day. Stuff gets thrown at you from left field all the time and you have to manage your own emotions to be able to make decisions, hopefully the right ones!

In an ever changing world leadership has changed enormously. Offices are changing, business processes are changing, generational attitudes are changing as well the effects of technology, and leadership needs to adapt!

As the spaces we work in and the digital environment we perform in continues to change faster than ever, is there a consistency to leadership that we can hold on to and use? I believe there is. Where people forecast the further rise of Artificial Intelligence, robots, drones and different types of jobs, I believe the workplace of the future (foreseeable anyway) will focus on the human factor. Places will become more human, where we crave a community based environment to work alongside and bounce ideas off each other, where we will go for the social cues of management, culture, systems and leadership.

So in a very human environment it will be more important than ever for leaders to use skills that relate to the human in us.

To this end I want to look at the three key characteristics true leaders need to empower and drive ambition, performance and excitement. These aren’t new ideas but areas I believe a lot of leaders don’t necessarily consider important, or even if they do, poorly execute. These three characteristics aren’t the be all and end all to be successful but to me they are the bedrock of what true leadership stands upon. So what are they?

Empathy

Not a ground breaking start but one that so many leaders don’t understand or don’t have the ability to embrace and execute. I wrote a blog over 2 years ago called Leading Through Their Eyes. It focused on emotionally understanding what drives a person’s behaviour and decision making. If you can master this, your own decision making or the way you deal with situations, the way you lead, will change for the better. It’s something that is written about in spades at the moment and I believe that empathy linked to leadership comes only from experience. I’m sure teachings help with awareness, and to learn to stop and think can be a good circuit breaker. But empathy comes from a deep understanding of emotions, and understanding emotions comes from experiencing them. Love, loss, stress are all emotions we experience and we weren’t or can’t be taught how to necessarily deal with them. So to be truly empathetic we need to experience and remember what life is like. How did we feel when we were coming up through the ranks at work, how did we feel when our boss treated us a certain way and how did we react to that way of leadership or decision making? Empathy is a skill true leader’s need, even more so in a future ‘human’ world.

Consistency – Quieten The Mind

The first ever blog I wrote was Are you a Swan Leader?. This was about consistently being a level headed leader where your actions, decisions and day to day attitude are not driven by wearing your heart on our sleeve nor driven by your own emotions. Your team and your peers need to trust, feel and believe you can handle the ups and downs, highs and lows of being a leader. Your team needs security in knowing that when the shit hits the fan you are there with support and direction in the same calm and consistent way as when the pressure is off. Every single time! I recently attended a conference where Jeffrey Pfeffer was presenting. Jeffrey teaches at Stanford University and has written 14 books on business and leadership. His presentation highlighted that the majority of leaders across the globe are unfortunately quite crap, and that most did not understand what being a leader even meant! One statement from him that stuck with me was that a leader should not concern themselves on how they felt at work, but rather consider how their team felt if you wanted to drive performance. So many leaders worry about themselves rather than their team and rarely put their team first. As leaders we have the opportunity to inspire and create amazing results through our teams. I personally believe this starts with consistency, especially under pressure or when you’re having a crap day, so be a Swan Leader.

Decision making – do what you say you’ll do! 

As obvious as it sounds the 3rd characteristic is decision making. As leaders we need to make decisions all the time, but many leaders communicate poorly with confusing direction or worse, procrastinate and do not do what they say they’ll do. Time and time again I’ve seen instances where leaders are required to make decisions, from small basic ones to larger more complex ones and they just stall! Teams need direction and guidance, and clear timely decision making is critical. We all have doubts about certain decisions we need to make but procrastination is not an answer. Our teams need guidance to be able to move through a problem or hit a deadline and stalling just adds pressure to the team and the situation, it starts to put doubt in their minds. Even if we are unsure that the decision is the right one, make the call and follow through. It’s even worse to say you’ll do something and then don’t. Do what you say you’re going to do. As mentioned earlier, we are all learning and experience gives us that learning so if the decision is the right one, brilliant, if it’s off or incorrect you’ll find out soon enough. You will however have learnt from it, and trust me when I say your team will still respect you for making a decision that kept them or their project moving. There is one caveat on making a wrong decision. Make sure you take ownership of a wrong decision, if you don’t then you’ll lose more than a little lost time, you’ll lose the respect from your team. There’s no coming back from not taking ownership of your decisions. Perfection is impossible so it’s more important to learn and fail than it is to always be right. So be bold and make clear and timely decisions and you’ll see great results and gain respect.

As I said earlier, these three characteristics aren’t the be all and end all to be successful but in my opinion they are the bedrock of what true leadership stands upon. Write them down, practice them and when put in situations, especially under pressure, use them to guide your actions.

 

2 thoughts on “The Bedrock of Leadership

  1. Mark, a very inspiring article once again! Couldn’t agree more on your points about empowerment, empathy and solid decision making skills.

    As someone who has been exposed to architecture & construction industry for five or so years and has worked with a number of leaders, I believe a sense of empowerment has been one of the most crucial for me. We look up to our leaders and we want them to see us, our potential and to care. We all want to do well and want to be given the right tools to do our job and it is impossible without clear leadership and direction.

    I truly believe in the power of emotional intelligence when it comes to leadership. ‘How did we feel when we were coming up through the ranks at work, how did we feel when our boss treated us a certain way and how did we react to that way of leadership or decision making? Great Mark! I believe these are very powerful questions to ask yourself on a daily basis. It really helps me when I mentor junior staff and I sometimes feel it gets a bit forgotten by some more senior folk.

    Consistency is also a must, but sometimes I feel true leadership is just about showing up! Attention, I read once, is a leader’s main asset. This really resonated with me. Lack of confidence and decision making skills, and especially lack of attention often creates confusion, lack of confidence and frustration with the project teams.

    Most importantly, I believe emotional intelligence can and must be taught. Better companies must provide training on EI, especially for their senior staff. A number of studies show that emotional intelligence can be taught and it is especially vital in a fast-paced technologically advanced age we live in, as you put very wisely, when our emotions are constantly trying to catch up with the ever changing conditions, social media pressures and other stresses of outside world. I believe it would largely help workplace diversity, gender balance and the way we feel about being at work and our responsibilities to support our team members and the people around us and be there for them when they need us.

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    1. Thanks for the insightful and kind comments Polina. I love your point on a leader needing to give attention. This is so true. Some of the greatest and most engaging leaders are the ones that make you feel like you’re the only one in the room and work through the issues giving you their full attention. Keep up the great work and thanks again.

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