Leaders of tomorrow
Finally, we know the result - Joe Biden is to be the 46th President of the United States of America, with Kamala Harris by his side as Vice-President. On paper, an exciting combination. Let’s hope, that after a turbulent four years of American politics, they can heal the stark rifts that exist in the country and unite those 50 States, amongst all the other work they have on their agenda.
So, what kind of leader is Biden? Well, word on the street is that he’s a good man, he’ll steady the ship. He does after all have almost four decades under his belt as a Senator, only resigning to serve as vice-president for Barack Obama – in my opinion, a trail blazer of a President. Apparently, Biden listens to expert advice, even when it might go against what he believes; he is a multilateralist – again demonstrating that he wants to unite, rather than to divide. And, he is apparently purposeful in his intent. All good signs for a great leader. We hope.
What are the core qualities that make for an effective leader? I thought rather than to give my view and explanation, I’d pull together other people’s perspectives on what qualities make a person a great leader.
This works both ways. As a leader, if you gain the trust of those you work with, it pays dividends. If your team trust you, they will be far more committed to goals, feel confident in the direction the business is taking and ultimately put trust in you in the decisions you as a leader are making. It’s also important that as a leader and manager, you place trust in your team – trust that they can get on with the job. Amy Pope was Deputy Homeland Security Advisor for the Obama administration and says of the quality of trust: “An effective leader can delegate and trust their team to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. That trust has enormous leverage in the loyalty it produces. It's about setting expectations and also ensuring people are accountable but in a way that fosters that trust, resilience and personal responsibility. It just breeds good will and that is going to matter to people.”
The better you understand yourself, the more effective you can be as a leader. Therefore, if you are consciously aware and understand the impact your thoughts, the resulting emotions and thus behaviours are going to have on those around you, you can temper them accordingly. Self-awareness enables you to know your strengths and weaknesses, maybe your hidden biases, to consciously be aware of how others perhaps perceive you and so forth. This means you can alter your communication and behaviour to be a more effective leader. Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, describes self-awareness as one of the core components of emotional intelligence. He defines emotional intelligence as your ability to recognise and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviour and relationships. Self-awareness is empowering because it arms you with knowledge and enables you to make better choices — to change or grow.
Ability to delegate
34th President of the USA, Dwight D. Eisenhower is cited on The Winning Edge Programme: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” It’s a quote we use during the Understanding and Working with Human Nature module and explores developing interdependent relationships that benefit both parties. As a leader, this aids the art of delegation – you pass on tasks to others, who are ready, willing and able and therefore clearing the decks for you to work on more strategic matters. It also means you are developing your people’s skills. Some leaders find it challenging to make the shift from doing to leading, and that’s where the art of delegation comes in. Some are concerned the task won’t be done to their standard, whilst others still think they should be seen to be pitching in. But to be an effective leader, it is important to delegate; without the ability to delegate effectively, it’s impossible for you to advance to higher positions of responsibility. As Jesse Sostrin PhD, author of The Manager’s Dilemma, Beyond the Job Description, and Re-Making Communication at Work, says: ‘…how you involve others sets the ceiling of your leadership impact. The upper limit of what’s possible will increase only with each collaborator you empower to contribute their best work to your shared priorities. Likewise, your power decreases with every initiative you unnecessarily hold on to.’ If we pay attention to Eisenhower’s ethos on leadership, it’s a win-win situation.
As a leader, making the time to understand those you work with is important; having a comprehension of what they are motivated by and when times are good and not so good for them; it all helps them to feel valued and that they are noticed and that they matter.
There is a difference between empathy and compassion as master certified confidence coach Kara Loewentheil explains. She makes a distinction between feeling compassion for someone and being empathetic: “If we get upset because someone else gets upset, how is that serving the situation and how is that serving them? Of course, we can empathise that they are suffering, and so you can have compassion for that suffering, but I personally prefer to have compassion, rather than empathy.” With empathy, Lowentheil says you are believing the other person’s thoughts but they are just thoughts. Yes, in their experience they are going through something, but it’s about distancing yourself from their experience, which you can do when feeling compassion for them; with empathy, you can feel more overwhelmed. Compassion, rather than empathy, gives you perspective and therefore you can offer advice through a more objective filter. It also gives the other person the space to work through their emotions – which is empowering.
Russell E. Palmer is Chairman and CEO of corporate investment firm The Palmer Group. His view on integrity as a core quality for leadership: "We need to stress that personal integrity is as important as executive skill in business dealings… Setting an example from the top has a ripple effect throughout a business school or a corporation. After nearly three decades in business, 10 years as chief executive of a Big Eight accounting firm, I have learned that the standards set at the top filter throughout a company... To quote Professor Thomas Dunfee of the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania: 'A company that fails to take steps to produce a climate conducive to positive work-related ethical attitudes may create a vacuum in which employees so predisposed may foster a frontier-style, everyone for themselves mentality.’”
It goes without saying that it’s impossible to be an effective leader, without being a good communicator. The world’s greatest leaders are always exceptional communicators and that’s about recognising how you can transpose your ideas to the hearts and minds of those you lead, so that it appeals to them. They need to want to embrace your vision – they need to know what’s in it for them. People who feel valued put in the discretionary effort and successful businesses thrive when their people feel respected and appreciated. It's not a dark art – be open and transparent, even during the challenging times. It’s not about fudging the truth, it’s being upfront and saying these are challenging times which you are finding a way to work through. No soundbites, no rhetoric, no spinning, it’s being honest and authentic and that's when everyone pulls together to weather the storm. To be a successful leader, communication is king. In Richard Branson’s opinion, communication is the most important any skill any leader can possess: “Communication makes the world go round. It facilitates human connections, and allows us to learn, grow and progress.”
This goes hand-in-hand with being an effective communicator. Listening requires us to be present, attentive, engaged, open and flexible and aids building relationships with other people. This is what is known as active listening. It’s about being engaged and present. I always differentiate between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’ – you might hear what someone says, but did you listen? Did you actively process and decode it because for me, there is a difference between just hearing what someone is telling you. As a leader, it’s important to listen to understand, to notice the non-verbal communication – to what is not being said, and listening helps to form a connection. In that moment, that person has your full attention because as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” A different take on: Actions speak louder than words. It’s a bit like when a young child is learning to speak, they utter some sounds which in their head, makes perfect sense; they then look at you for acknowledgement of what they’ve said but you’ve no idea. You listened but didn’t understand and they know exactly when that happens – even when you pretend you’ve understood them… If as a leader you pay lip service and say you listen to those you work with but don’t action anything, it’s an empty gesture. Listening is crucial. Brigette Hyacinth, author of Leading the Workforce of the Future, says that as a leader: “…the quality of listening determines the quality of influence. Employees want to be heard and they want to be respected. Listening transmits that kind of respect and builds trust. This leads to more motivated and committed team members.”
Great business leaders are Congruent Chameleons – they are honest and authentic, comfortable in their own skin; they are in touch with their values and this is evidenced by their behaviour. There is no dumbing down or social climbing according to who they are interacting with - they are altering their communication on a subconscious level which is neither patronising nor condescending because their behaviour is modified at a subconscious level by the deep respect they have for those they are leading. Great leaders lead by stature, not by status. To quote Richard Jackson MBE, of The Winning Edge: “Stature in leadership and management is essentially a matter of personal mindset, not of memorised procedures and rehearsed techniques. The snag with procedures and techniques is they're often seen (consciously or subconsciously) as manipulative - one of the great demotivators in human relationships. Stature appeals to the positive emotions. By using desire and empathy (not obligation or fear), it delivers strong results from an unshakeable platform of self-belief. Influencing through the power of stature is the purest illustration of the law of positive cause and effect in human relationships.”
As a leader, courage is crucial. Courage to move with the times, courage to have the challenging conversations; to make the unpopular decisions that will move the business forward; to take risks; courage to ask for feedback – and to act on it; courage to recognise when there are those you can develop who will one day supersede you. Brené Brown believes the future of leadership is courage – something she discovered when interviewing creative leaders from around the globe. Brown commented: “We cannot get where we want without being brave and we cannot be brave without being vulnerable. Vulnerability is the ability to show up and to be seen and stay engaged when you´re in fear and uncertainty.” Now more than ever, we face uncertainty and therefore courage is vital.
A quote I use often is by American businessman Ray Kroc: “When you're green, you’re growing. When you're ripe, you rot.” As a leader, it’s about constantly striving for self-improvement to help your thoughts develop, to embrace innovation, promote your creativity and to be agile in a constantly changing and evolving world. If we think we know everything, and we can’t learn from others, we are coming from a place of ignorance. It’s vitally important that for personal growth, we adopt a a mindset whereby we live life consciously – aware of the nature of our thoughts and to keep them in check so that they serve us well.
These are uncertain times. Working in an environment where re-structuring and redundancy is a frequent occurrence is extremely unsettling for personnel; constant ambiguity can lead to low morale. How do we work through such challenging times? You can't always change what's going on around you, but you can always choose how you react and subsequently, it’s about being aware of your on-going attitude. If you're a leader and a manager who has a fatalistic view of how your next financial year is going to pan out, chances are your team’s attitude will follow suit. Part of your role is to inspire and to lead by example so it’s about having an abundance mentality. If you have belief and conviction that your team and business will come out the other side not only surviving but thriving, whilst it doesn’t 100% guarantee success, it certainly stacks the cards in your favour because you are in effect creating the opportunities and making your own luck because of your open and resourceful mindset.
I’ll leave the last word to the next President of the USA. For me, this epitomises someone who possesses many, if not all of the qualities mentioned above.
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