What makes a good leader?
Ever since we started Impact Factory, lo these many years ago, we have struggled with the whole notion of leadership development or leadership training. Indeed, we have resisted writing about it in much detail because the subject is so subjective.
Are leaders born or made? Can you use management leadership training to give leadership skills to someone who isn’t leadership material? How is it done?
Given that we’re being asked to create a lot more leadership programmes of late, we decided we’d take a hard look at just what makes a good leader.
Even of you don’t think of yourself as a leader, you will have areas in your life where other people look to you for leadership. So here are some essentials qualities and skills you need to be a good leader in whatever leadership arena you’re in.
Training is a misnomer when applied to leadership. Any leadership development programme has to include at least a passing reference to the following
Introduction to the concept of leadership behaviours
Discussion and debate about leadership
A widening of the definition beyond traditional leadership stereotypes
Personal understanding of individual leadership qualities and strengths
The difference between leadership and management
A look at how people perceive, their perception is their reality
Assumptions and their effect on how people see the world
What are your terms of reference and seeing the bigger picture
Personal patterns and beliefs
A look at the elements that have influenced and shaped the participants
Establishing ownership of individual’s leadership behaviours
A programme needs to be designed around the development of the individuals involved rather than towards competencies identified as required by the organisation.
What does a leader look like?
No cookie cutter models here. Everyone can develop their capacity to lead, from church committees to local pressure groups to business teams to political parties. When someone is committed to, and practises using their leadership capabilities at all levels in their life, then they can and will develop their own potential as a leader.
There is a tendency, in our Western culture, to see Leadership as synonymous with white, middle class, male, in charge. There’s a kind of unspoken template of what leadership is supposed to look like. Now we know that isn’t true. Leadership can and does come in many different shapes and forms.
Good leaders don’t conform to a template. Indeed, leaders are people who don’t usually follow the party line. They have an edge to them, they get up people’s noses sometimes, they make decisions – lots of them – that often others don’t like. They say the things that need saying in a way that others understand.
Don’t let the picture get in the way
However, it is important to acknowledge that people developing their leadership skills are often hampered by their picture (or other people’s picture) of what a leader is supposed to ‘look’ like.
This is when it’s important to understand that the role of leader is not only completely individual (remember, they don’t fit a mould!) but also has to be worked at with belief and will and determination by the person occupying it.
It’s different for everyone
Not only that, leaders will be experienced differently by the individual people they lead. One getting encouragement, another understanding. That, of course, will be due to the leader’s ability to see what each person needs (more on this later).
In addition, not every leader is going to be a great leader in the sense that the world around them acknowledges their leader status. Many leaders get no ‘public’ recognition, only their personal satisfaction of a job well done.
Seeing the Big Picture Vision
When the ‘vision’ word is used it usually means that someone has an idea of what the future could look like and a plan to get there. No point painting rosy, pie in the sky pictures (‘we’ll double our turnover in a year; we’ll create international markets; we’ll be number one in the UK’, etc.) if pie in the sky is all they are.
More like, ‘we could double our turnover in a year, this is how we could get there, this is what I expect from everyone in the organisation to help us get there and any new ideas are welcome’.
The ability to see
There is one essential quality for anyone in any position of leadership: the ability to see what is going on. Seeing is clarity. Seeing in the ‘wood for the trees’ kind of way.
We’ve heard the following phrase from a number of people throughout the years and it’s a good one – get your attention off yourself and on to whatever is going on.
What you’ll see
Here’s what you’ll be able to see if you do that: you’ll be able to see things from other people’s points of view; you’ll be able to understand what’s going on for them. You’ll be able to see what other people are capable of and how to help them achieve it. Most importantly, you’ll be able to see the whole picture not just your little bit of it.
What makes you tick?
Know thyself. To be able to see you need a clear understanding of what has made you the way you are and what has shaped and influenced your life. The clearer you are about what motivates and affects your behaviour, the clearer you will be able to see what is going on with other people.
You didn’t spring fully formed from Zeus’s head – many things have affected you over the years. A good leader is proud to acknowledge role models, people, places, things, etc, which have inspired them.
You can’t do it alone
Any good leader worth their salt should be able to name 100 people, places, things, right off the bat. Why? Because they know themselves well enough to acknowledge who has supported and inspired them along the way, and what support they still need to get things done.
Think about what qualities your role models have that are attractive to you, that make them inspiring. Now, putting aside modesty, false or otherwise, think about what qualities they have that you also have. You have to know who you are and accept that you have outstanding qualities – leaders are able to do that.
Beliefs, rules and patterns
How well do you understand the rules, beliefs and patterns you have created in your life so far? Everyone’s got ’em.
They can be the simple kind of rule – you should brush your teeth twice a day. They can be the more complex kind – you should treat everyone the way you expect to be treated. Beliefs can be things like – I believe everyone should be fair. And patterns can be as simple as going to and from work the same way every day.
When identifying your rules, patterns and beliefs see if you can avoid putting a value judgement on whether they are good or bad; this is far more about seeing just how well you understand your own behaviour.
Moving things forward Innovative thinking
Leadership requires innovative thinking; it requires people making positive and inspiring impacts; and it requires them to be able to motivate others. What is needed is an ability to think and act ‘out of the box’; out of the accepted or ‘right’ ways of doing things.
The culture of tomorrow will be one where change and innovation are the order of the day. Out of the box thinking and identifying future needs go hand in hand.
There’s no such thing as ‘can’t do’
‘Can’t do’ is an alien concept to a real leader. Leaders get things done. They have commitment, persistence, determination and resilience. Couple all of that with creative problem-solving and you have a person things happen around.
What we mean, is that no matter what their personality, there will be a kind of buzz around them; things change when they’re around; indeed, things might even get shaken up when they’re around. It isn’t always comfortable being around leaders.
You can’t stay stuck
Along with a ‘can do’ attitude, is an ability to move things forward. When others get bogged down, good leaders know how to motivate and inspire the people around them. They are willing to take risks and stand up for what they believe. They want to get things done and bring people along with them.
Can training develop leadership skills?
In our view, you cannot ‘send’ someone on a leadership programme who doesn’t want to be there and expect them to become a leader. It’s not like the reluctant presenter who gets sent along to a course and finds out that it’s not so bad after all. If your prospective leader isn’t fully engaged in the process, sending them along to be ‘taught’ leadership skills will be a waste of time and money.
If you fall into that category, then no amount of leadership training is going to develop your skills.
However, if you have to step into a new leadership role, or there are greater expectations of how you manage people, or you’ve become a project leader, and you have a willingness to develop and take on new skills, then it’s really possible to give yourself a leadership boost. Everyone can develop their capacity to lead, from church committees to local pressure groups to business teams to political parties. When you are committed to, and practise using your leadership capabilities at all levels in your life, then you can and will develop your own potential as a leader.
We believe there is a real difference between management and leadership. You don’t need to be a leader to be able to manage other people. However, to be an outstanding manager, you do have to have some of those essential skills and qualities that are necessary in developing as a leader.
Even if you are a manager with no major aspirations of leadership, there will be people who will turn to you for leadership, whether you like it or not. Therefore, when looking for training to develop your skills, it might be a very good idea to look at leadership courses as well as management courses.
There are scores of courses available calling themselves Leadership Training, Leadership Development, Leadership Skills, etc. We cannot judge just how good they are, but if you think about everything you’ve read so far and feel in synch with our sentiments, then that’s what you need to look for: courses that incorporate a clear approach to developing leadership skills.
Earlier in this document we outlined some of the things to look for in a Leadership Training Programme. Add to that list a few more essentials:
How to initiate leadership behaviours
Understanding how commitment works
Leading by example
Empowering and motivating others
Thinking on your feet
Handling yours and others’ stress
In our view, really good leadership courses need to incorporate all of these elements to be truly effective. Equally important, a programme needs to be relevant to your specific leadership needs and not something off the peg.
This is why Impact Factory only delivers tailored leadership training; so that each and every course fits the organisation to a ‘T’.
Expect the unusual, the quirky, the non-conformist, the doer, the inspirer and you’ve got yourself a leader. To become one or to develop your leadership skills you have to be fully engaged in the process of development and just like everyone else, you have to practise, practise, practise.
Key Learning Points:
The power of aligning personal motivation and business objectives
The capacity of strong well expressed beliefs to motivate others
Communication is far more than just words
Leadership is not just about getting people to do what you ask
It is far more about seeing what is needed and carrying people forward with your vision
Being able to create the impact you want
Expanding your spheres of influence
Being able to talk to people in terms they understand
Using appropriate language
The relevance, development and use of personal style
Putting across concepts and ideas with ease and flair
The value of creative risk-taking and “out of the box” thinking
Making sure projects move forward without having to do all the work yourself.