“There is no such thing as a perfect leader, either in the past or present, in China or elsewhere. If there is one, he is only pretending, like a pig inverting spring onions into his nose in an effort to look like an elephant”.
It may be true that there is no such thing as the perfect leader – leaders are human, after all. However, that is not to say that people who hold leadership positions should not continually seek to improve their leadership skills.
Some managers hardly set an example for others to follow. They may have a badge on their office door or overall that pronounces them ‘Head of Service’; ‘Area Manager’; or ‘Unit Supervisor’ but do these ‘badge holders’ display all the necessary qualities to inspire others to follow them? It is unlikely that people are promoted to senior positions without any leadership skills, but they may lack one or more essential ones.
In order to measure managers’ leadership capabilities we need to identify what are the essential qualities of an effective leader. In my view they are six in number:
* A Leader is a visionary
* A Leader sets an example
* A Leader understands what motivates each team member
* A Leader builds supportive relationships
* A Leader empowers others to reach their potential
* A Leader understands the power of communications
These are the six components that each leader must work hard at continually and consistently applying and, most importantly, demonstrating in all he or she does. Think of it as a jigsaw – The Leadership Jigsaw®
Unless all six pieces are in place, the leader will not achieve his or her potential, nor will those looking to following their leader. No one aspiring to lead a high-performing team can do so if they are ‘one piece short of a jigsaw’! Let’s consider each piece in a little more detail.
VISION. Leadership involves taking people on a journey, but if people are to follow it must not be a journey into the unknown. Such destinations may work for Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise but they will not work for modern-day leaders with their feet placed firmly on terra-firma! A person holding a leadership position without a clear vision, or the ability to communicate one effectively, will be heading into darkness (probably alone!).
Creating a vision must, by its very nature, be one of the foremost roles of a leader – as it sets a positive theme for the future. A leader’s vision – which he or she personally associates themselves with – should appeal to people at an emotional level, as well as a practical one. It should be meaningful, relevant and inspirational: encouraging people to buy into it willingly. When leaders express their vision in a way that touches their followers, they invite strong commitment: a common purpose that focuses people on a shared, mutually beneficial objective.
“A leader shapes and shares a vision which gives point to the work of others” — Charles Handy
EXAMPLE. One of the most important and effective qualities leaders can display is consistently and visibly to link the values they stand for with their everyday actions. Indeed, consistency and visibility are the keys. People respect and follow leaders whose behaviour mirrors their words; they have no respect for leaders who say one thing and do another. “Do as I say, not as I do” is simply not good enough.
Leaders should, therefore, look hard into the mirror and consider what they see. They should ask themselves: “Do I lead in such a way that I would willingly follow myself? Do I consistently demonstrate leadership qualities that I would recognise in leaders that I, myself, respect?” You can be sure of one thing: you may not be continually assessing your performance as a leader, but your followers will be! They will be watching your every move and taking a lead from you.
The leaders acts as though everyone is watching, even when no-one is watching” — Brian Tracy
MOTIVATION. Having a vision is one thing: selling it in a way that others want to realise it is quite another. The leader’s role is to focus the energies of followers on shared goals and to encourage them to achieve those goals. Yet everybody is different and responds to different stimuli. Truly great leaders understand their followers: they understand their needs, their dreams, their fears, their emotions – what ‘makes them tick’. It is an understanding of the impact of differing needs on different people that is vital for effective leadership.
One of the greatest motivators is to believe that you are contributing to your team’s success and, hence, to the success of the overall vision. People need to believe that they are playing their part and successful leaders ensure that they receive the recognition their efforts deserve. In my experience of working with junior managers across the country, a belief that they are not valued for their efforts is one of the most commonly found demotivators.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it” — Dwight D Eisenhower
RELATIONSHIP. It is axiomatic that a leader needs followers – a team of people working together towards a common aim. To be effective, a team working across an organisation requires supportive relationships not only between leader and followers, but between followers themselves. A culture of trust must exist between all members, at all levels, with the leader providing the shining example for all to follow.
Notwithstanding the fundamental changes forced upon organisations in recent years (down-sizing and delegated budgets for example) some departments are still led by ‘badge-holders’ who busy themselves interfering in the work of their subordinates; are unwilling to share information; and insist on sanctioning every decision. Yet if the modern leader’s challenge is to make optimum use of fewer resources (and it is!) this will only happen if people are encouraged to participate in an open, positive environment based upon mutually-supportive relationships. ‘Mushroom management’ must be replaced by a culture where everyone is prepared to give and receive trust.
“All your strength is in your union.
All your danger is in discord” –Henry Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha
EMPOWERMENT. Enlightened leaders understand that most people naturally want to better themselves and, given the appropriate support and encouragement, will grasp the opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge. They also realise that the key to getting the best out of people is to give them responsibility for their own actions, rather than creating an environment of control and mistrust.
Such leaders are willing to delegate aspects of their role to their subordinates when the situation allows and, moreover, are prepared to empower them to take decisions themselves, within parameters, without recourse to higher authority.
Empowerment is based upon the belief that, given the opportunity, people are preordained to think for themselves and will generate ideas that benefit their workplace, their organisation and, hence, by extension – themselves. Following orders robotically produces robots; allowing invention and inspiration produces ideas and a pride in individual and team achievements.
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you will help them to become what they are capable of being” — Goethe
COMMUNICATION. Whilst all those holding the badge of leadership, without exception, would preach the importance of effective communications, not all practice what they preach. But, yet again, it is the leader who should lead the way by his or her example.
Productive communications are built upon understanding between all parties. A leader who is prepared to get out and ‘walk the talk’ will be in a far better position to both reinforce the vision, and hear how it is being received, than one who remains desk-bound. There are few more potent motivating actions a leader can take than to make the effort to speak to front-line workers and to ask “how are things going?”, and mean it!
We live in the ‘communication age’. Yet with the previously unimaginable powers now at our fingertips come inherent dangers. Communications is not only about the ‘what’ – just as important is the ‘how’. Wise leaders balance the efficiency of technology with the impact of the human touch. They are well aware that they cannot shake a hand, pat a back, or even smile via email!
“A leader is someone who knows what she wants to achieve and how to communicate it” — Margaret Thatcher
THE MESSAGE? The message is that true leaders need to be proficient in a wide range of essential skills that can be represented by The Leadership Jigsaw. Those holding leadership positions should measure themselves against this model of excellence to ensure that they are not ‘one piece short of a jigsaw’.