By Tim Elgar
For some of you – this is easy. There is someone who jumps right into your mind and you can quickly recount why you thrived under their leadership. However, I ask this question a lot as part of leadership development programmes and for the majority it’s a difficult question.
Most responses take attributes or characteristics of certain leaders and piece meal them together. Some openly admit they don’t think they have ever had a great leader and find it much easier to reflect on the ‘bad’ leaders they have experienced. Some have never reflected before on the role of those they have been led by.
You may be reading this thinking how would I answer this question? Or sitting there as a leader thinking – leadership is tough!
I am someone who theoretically and ideologically is well versed in the definition of great leadership. We are not short of literature, TED talks, inspiring blogs, L&D modules on the subject. We also know the value it brings– leadership after all is unquestionably a key factor in developing a successful and thriving business. However, we still often underinvest in this area - often because it can feel hard to tangibly track the return on investment or can feel a slower burner vs other quicker wins/pressures.
Let’s reflect on two things that make leadership of people a tough job; shortcomings and expectation. Then lets think today about who needs our encouragement.
Shortcomings. I have studied, developed courses, read the Simon Sinek et al books and been incredibly inspired. Yet I have so often fallen short in my leadership even with the best intentions. My own self-centredness (after all I am the star in my own movie), insecurity and natural personality type mean, for some, I have no doubt let them down.
But lets reflect on the complexity of this.
Great leaders are; focussed, have vision, create impact, emotionally intelligent, humble, exceptional listeners, excellent communicators, clear, personable, care about your wellbeing, organised, model behaviour, hardworking, make you feel safe, stretch you, challenge you, cheerlead you and give you great opportunities to progress etc etc….
Let’s call this out – no-one is all of those things all the time! Those in leadership positions reading this – take heart, we all fall short of the mark. You are also not simply leading people. The majority of your time is focussed on the strategic decision making and the day-to-day management of the projects, department or business.
Expectations; These are high in the workplace. In the last 20 years we have better understood and defined the role and impact of organisational culture. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be in an environment that allowed them to thrive? Why would you not be in a job which you love? Our consumer society means we more than ever judge something, someone or somewhere on ‘what it does for me’. The challenge here for our businesses, is that first and foremost they need to be commercially sustainable and that requires all hands to the deck, balancing opportunity and progression with getting the job done.
Whether you know it or not we all have a psychological contract with our place of work. This is not a formal contract but a philosophical one. Our own interpretation of what we should personally invest and what we will get in return. This starts at the early onboarding phase and is developed through our experiences.
On reflection, most people leave a job because of a breach to this contract – the role is no longer meeting their expectations – be it with leadership, change, pay, progression, feeling valued etc.
If we tell people we are one thing, but this doesn’t play out, then we risk breaking this contract. Unfortunately, I have seen organisational values as a prime example of this. You are onboarded with a set of values communicated and re-enforced then what you experience in practice does not meet this expectation and the psychological contract is breached.
In leadership we also often do this – set out with great intentions and make commitments of what you will do for someone or the opportunities you will afford them only for the reality to fall short.
So, what am I trying to say?
Leadership is tough and complex due to our shortcomings and expectations. As leaders we are always thrown curve balls, you only have to take the last 18 months to show that. But what can we do today to grow in this area?
1. Be gracious and appreciative of those who lead you.
Why not today send a message of appreciation to someone today who has or is supporting you well on your journey? All leaders need that! Tell them what they are doing/did well. It is a tough job. You can even tag your best leader in this post and tell them they inspired you.
2. Honesty and integrity – strengthening the psychological contract.
When it comes to expectations, be as clear and honest as possible and always act with integrity. We all fall short, but reflect on what you can communicate clearly and honestly around what team members can expect from you. Don’t over sell but seek to demonstrate what they can expect.
3. Define behaviours
One of the most powerful tools that can be developed with a leadership team is a set of leadership behaviours/promises with an accountability framework that defines what good leadership looks like in your business. If your business can’t define great leadership then I would love to help you with that. Maybe these now need to be re-engineered and moulded with further hybrid working.
4. Surround yourself with cheerleaders and the right support
Who are you surrounding yourself with that can encourage you or help you move forward? Adopting a growth mindset is important. Who can you learn from? What are they doing that you can apply to yourself? Who do you want to be – what are you doing to get there? Consider peer networks or coaching opportunities to help you.
Today, be the leader you always wanted when you were starting out. If you have examples of great leaders you have worked with. I would love to hear about them and what you appreciated most.
If I or the team at Gradconsult can help with your situation in any way please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
This post was originally posted on Tim's LinkedIn, on the 17th September 2021. You can find the original link, here