Author: David Evans
A brief appraisal of the economic environment of the last 15 years demonstrates the impact of corrosive leadership. Superbly summarised at the beginning of their 2012 book "The Fulfilling Workplace", Ronald J Burke and Cary L Cooper observed that the leadership of banks and certain corporations (Enron, for example) through the 2000's serves to show how individual unscrupulousness and toxic cultures can torpedo the honest endeavours of thousands of ordinary workers to deliver great public services.
What is Leadership?
I have long-thought that the primary role of leaders is to create the conditions in which everyone in the organisation (or team) can do what they do best every day at work. This definition talks to issues like resource-allocation, personal development, suitability in role, corporate culture and purpose-focus. Understanding purpose and being purposeful is at the heart of being able to create the most effective conditions in which we can deploy the best of ourselves in the work we do. Because we are all individual, good leaders understand that the challenge of how to inspire 'different strokes for different folks', and all that has to be customised, flexed and constantly reviewed.
How will we know when we've got it?
The journey toward good leadership hangs on the development of a keen sense of self-awareness. Understanding oneself and recognising what we're doing, and why, is a powerful tool that provides invaluable personal and intimate feedback. Being self-aware enables us to sense-check what we're doing and why we are doing it the way we are. Furthermore, it helps us to regulate our emotions and responses so that they are proportionate and contextually appropriate. This is particularly important for leaders since the responses and immediate actions of those in positions of influence tend to set the tone of the responses of others and shape opinions.
Can we learn it?
Self-awareness is something that individuals can develop on their own by reserving time for self-reflection, asking themselves questions like 'How did I do there?' 'What could I have done differently?' 'What could I have done more of or less of?' 'Did I truly understand what the desired outcomes were, before getting involved?' In the 24-7 connected world in which we live, it's my experience that we do too little self-reflection.
We can also get feedback from others. In my expeirence, it's amazing how little we seek out the observations and opinions of others in considering our own style and approach! But, by understanding the views of those whose opinion we trust and respect, we can gain incredible insight into how we 'land' in the eyes of others. Combining this with our own self-reflection gives us a substantial data-pickup with which we can adapt and enhance our leadership skills.
There are numerous psychometric assessments, many incorporating a 360 degree element, which provide valuable feedback on our leadership style. Taken 'in the round' and overseen by suitably-qualified coaches, they afford the opportunity to get feedback in a structured format which has, ideally, been appropriately validated.
And, we can also ask people who've been there before us about the things that worked for them; getting reference points and examples helps us to build the courage and confidence to tackle difficult situations. Talking at length with experienced successful leaders has incredible value.
It's also within us
Perhaps the most fundamental part of identifying our own leadership approach is having an understanding of and appreciation for our personal values: what are those deep-seated beliefs that shape our behaviours, our attitudes and our relationships? Understanding these and appreciating their impact on our actions and thoughts gives us a real insight into what drives us, and this enables us to define in what context we want to work and to recognise whether our organisational culture is supporting or hindering us. Barrett Values Centre cultural transformation tools is one of the best ways of identifying personal values and understanding how they fit with those of the people around us.
Aligned with the benefit of deeply understanding our values-set is the complementary importance of defining one's personal purpose. I appreciate that for some of us, identifying our personal purpose might be a life's work on its own! If one is able to articulate it, then one is able to answer the question of how does what we aspire to fit with your organisation's purpose and that of your significant other colleagues?
Armed with the knowledge of one's values and personal purpose, and with a deep self-awareness of how one 'lands' with others, it is possible to build a powerfully-effective and authentic style of leadership. Of course, it still requires leaders to stay true to themselves and their values in all that they say and do, even when times are tough; this is often the part that lets us down!
Leadership is not a gift: we all have, in my opinion, what it takes to lead; we just need the passion for something that reflects our personal purpose and exudes our values.