Nearly 20 years of consulting and coaching experience in some of the world’s most effective organisations in virtually every sector imaginable, and the absolute privilege and honour of working at a deeply personal level with the most senior leaders in these organisations has left me with some impressions of great leadership as it is lived on a daily basis.
This is not the result of hours of empirical research with endless questionnaires and data tables. Rather, it is my reflective summary of what great leadership feels like. The list speaks to the habits of brilliant leaders, and can be understood at all levels of an organisation.
Ask great questions that illuminate new solutions – flashes of inspiration, or insights as I prefer to call them, do not just happen to leaders. Great leaders create the conditions within which the people around them have great insights, and they do this by relentlessly asking questions to understand what is before them – probing, illuminating, incisive questions that cause those around them to have a broader perspective and think differently. Fertile ground indeed for new ideas.
Learn to harness and exploit your natural strengths – many of my clients assume that I am there to help them negate their weaknesses. The power of the human mind is such that you get more of what you focus on, and if you concentrate on your weak points, you enhance them. Better therefore to build and exploit your strengths… way more fun too!
Only work on the weaknesses that limit you – we all have blind spots and things that do not come naturally. Great leaders understand that the only weaknesses that matter are those that are either getting in their way or limiting them. In my coaching work, I have found that often even these performance limiting weaknesses get compensated for and minimised by focusing on strengths. So this list should be pretty short – developing weaknesses is a last resort.
Check-in with people more often than you need to – teams and individuals who are being led have a need to be heard, listened to and paid attention to. It is a basic human need to be recognised and valued. Understand this, and check in with your people multiple times a day – you are never too busy to do this. It is amazing what you learn by just chatting to people, and the motivational effect is huge.
Look at industries that are similar but different to yours – when we look at other companies that are similar to us, we simply see a reflection of ourselves. Surely the object of looking outwards is to find something different. So if you are an airline, don’t look at other airlines, look at how five-star hotels or casinos treat their customers and take lessons from that. Maybe this is a better route to finding ways to differentiate in a crowded market.
Look inwards for the solutions not outwards – in my consulting work I have the privilege of understanding how a huge range of organisations operate – with different styles, structures and strategies – it gives me a wider viewpoint and more perspectives to draw from in helping my clients. However, one thing is clear to me – that ideas and techniques do not easily transport from one context to another, and where I have seen leaders create the best solutions has been when they think carefully about what will work within their organisation, rather than look at what everybody else is doing.
Ask what, how and when rather than why – any question beginning with the word “why” is surely a probing enquiry into understanding the situation better, isn’t it? What I have observed, however, is that people get very defensive when faced with this sort of question. “Why did you do that?” has an accusatory tone to it which does not exist in the questions “What else might you have done?” or “How might you have done this differently?”.
Answer questions with questions – in a number of the leadership development programs that I have designed and led, participants are asked to spend two weeks asking questions in response to any questions that they are asked by their team. It is a tough exercise. However, the results are invariably along the lines of “I realise that my team already have the answers”, “they are simply looking for me to take the responsibility for the decision” and “they want me to do the thinking for them”. It is very seductive being able to give people answers, but as leaders we are better off taking the harder road which is to ask the insightful question that helps point the way to them finding their own answers.
Be positive in your outlook for the future – human beings are hardwired to respond to positive ideas, language, attitude and behaviour. Negative people are draining, and with the pace of organisations today we can ill afford this. As leaders we must model the way we want people to be – and being positive about the future gives people hope, and hope gives energy.
Be grounded in your assessment of today – however, it is critical that leaders see the reality of today, and ground the judgement within this even one being very positive about the future. This is essential to be able to build connection with the individuals and teams that you lead. This is where checking in with people on a regular basis is invaluable – I have seen so many leaders make assumptions about the reality within their organisations, when all they are really seeing is what they want to see. This builds distance between them and their people, and as a consequence the leadership impact is diminished.
Some of these reflections are counterintuitive, or at the very least not how we instinctively behave. I am supremely confident that if you can model at least some of these behaviours within your leadership you will see dramatic improvements. This is borne out by the thousands of managers and leaders that I have worked with over the last 20 years, and the other thing I have learnt is that only you can make these improvements.
Over to you then…read more
Do you ever feel that there are people you know who should have been more successful than they are given their talents, experience and abilities? Do you feel this about yourself perhaps? The reality is that we all have our own glass ceiling, self-imposed through our ‘dark side behaviours‘.
Unfulfilled career aspirations and potential, and even outright derailment are all symptoms of our inability to see, focus on and deal with the dark side of leadership. It is tempting to think that these dark side behaviours are overtly negative, and therefore they would be obvious to us and those around us. Unfortunately this is not the case – these derailing behaviours or characteristics or more subtle.
Around a year ago, we took on a psychometric product called Talent Q to offer to our clients as part of our coaching and leadership development work, as part of our armoury in helping leaders to counter the dark side of leadership. The elements that Hay Group have identified as derailers the following (amongst others) as limiters of leadership effectiveness:
- Hypersensitivity – are you either too affected by others’ emotions, or not tuned in enough – either way it is a problem for you.
- Isolation – too connected to others, or prefer your own company? Extremes are best avoided for leadership success.
- Eccentricity – research has shown that not enough creative thought can be just as limiting as being ‘out there’.
- Over-confidence – a balance of humility and confidence are required – no shrinking violets, but Attila the Hun had control issues…
- Micro-management – are you too across the detail? What would your team say about this?
We have found that leaders find difficulty in assessing accurately their own position on these factors, and so we are now licensed to deploy these reports and debrief fully to help people in leadership position avoid the downsides of the dark side behaviours.
If you would like to know more about how we can help you maximise the positive aspects of your leadership ability, and avoid these limiting factors, contact Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just call me on +44 (0) 7711 831992.read more
The world may not be getting smaller, but it is certainly getting more competitive. All of the client firms that we are currently working with are experiencing the need to compete more globally, and in this age of freely available information it is hard to see how you sustain any form of advantage for any period of time.
Customers are increasingly looking for new forms of value, or ways in which they can access value in more convenient, easier or cheaper ways. The Internet is fuelling this search, and to succeed in the future firms are going to have to think very differently about their business model and offering.
Innovation therefore becomes critically important for future survival and prosperity–but we do tend to think of innovation at the strategic level, i.e. new products and services, new markets and the like. However, there is huge untapped improvement and innovation potential within all of the people that you employ.
Therefore, building a culture of continuous improvement and innovation can provide an enormous source of value, as organisations clearly need to innovate at both the operational and strategic levels.
So, in the real world how is this done?
Sir Ken Robinson in his RSA video (Click here to watch) outlines the challenge – when we were small children, we could envisage hundreds of potential uses for a paper clip, but as we were ‘educated’ our ability to think laterally and creatively diminished sharply. This underlines the challenge of reclaiming that innate innovative ability.
The reality is remarkably simple, although difficult to do (like so many things in life…). As organisational leaders we need to:
- Highlight the need for innovation, why it is critical for us and your desire for people to engage in this way with their work
- Continuously ask for and positively reinforce the behaviours of challenging the norm, thinking differently and bringing ideas forward
- Experiment with different management behaviours and leadership styles, and monitor the positive (or negative) impacts they create
- Clearly demonstrate behaviours focused on continuous improvement and innovation
If we do not change our behaviours, how can we expect anything different from those around us?read more
Are your KPIs or measures the first thing you think about when you wake up each morning and draw the curtains?
Are they your constant source of energy and inspiration that keep you working at peak performance?
Too often measures are imposed on us and they they often represent what the organisation needs rather than what is meaningful for us.
But it does not have to be this way. Measuring to drive positive behaviour change involves a subtle but significant shift away from using KPIs and measures to drive behaviours to one where leaders are using the measures to engage, excite and enable.
We should and can have an emotional connection with our performance objectives and KPIs. This does however require a different approach.
We help our clients achieve this through developing KPIs and objectives that are :
Stretching – to drive us beyond the comfort zone into real achievement
Meaningful – for us, not just for the organisation
Aspirational – so we want to deliver – rather than just complying
Rewarding – there must be a ‘what is in it for me’
Trust – small word, big meaning and effect…
How do your KPIs measure up to these more emotional criteria?
Use KPIs to move your people from mere engagement to sheer excitement and exhilaration!read more
What was the most impactful event in your professional and leadership learning?
Having asked this question of a large number of people now, the answer always seems to lie in bosses they admired (or didn’t…), feedback they received or times when they were thrown in the deep end on a project or task.
Whichever is true for you – why do we not seem to recognise this and build this insight into our management and leadership development strategies?
We have long been impressed with the power of group learning (action learning in particular and variants of it), and the idea of learning that is more self-directed. It seems that we only really learn what is relevant to us at a particular time. For example, learning about strategic planning works particularly well at the time that your company is going through its strategy planning processes. Sounds obvious, but it is an often overlooked key that the real learning only happens when the new knowledge is used and applied. This is also the point where it creates value for the organisation too…
As a result of all of this, development programmes (and coaching) need to move into a phase where they are more varied in their approaches, relevant to peoples’ and organisations’ needs and combining traditional forms of learning with more experiential and social ways of making sense of the learning as it is applied to the learners’ work, and sharing the learning with others to help the organisation maximise the value of the new skills to everyone else. This principle is being expounded through the term 70-20-10, meaning:
- 10% of development time should be spent on acquiring new knowledge or skills through training, on-line learning or other forms of knowledge transfer
- 20% of time should be devoted to discussing the application of the learning in the workplace in groups, through social media or other forms of communication
- 70% of the time should be in the doing – applying the new skills, techniques or behaviours in the workplace to integrate into the learner’s daily practice.
This creates a more varied, stimulating and ultimately impactful development experience that will in time make simple training courses look a little long in the tooth.
Click here to see an example of how we used 70-20-10 leadership development for the University of Exeter in their Leadership South West contract.
For a discussion on how to re-align your development programmes that are not quite delivering the behaviour change you want or need to the 70-20-10 model, contact Simon on email@example.com or on +44 (0) 7711 831992.read more