People who think they lead or are meant to lead are plentiful. Really successful leaders are rare.
There's no right way to be a leader. Everyone who steps into a management, supervisory, directorial or executive role has a different way of making things happen, of making decisions and of motivating people. But there are some congruent ingredients.
The best leaders adapt to the ever-changing demands of direct reports, to the workforce as a whole, to markets, to stakeholders – indeed to all audiences. They are cognisant of what communication channels are used and how well – and they ensure that the right channels are used extremely well all of the time – including social media. Quality communication at all levels and in all guises is one of the most pertinent ingredients in any leadership model. It’s also extremely rare.
Communications via social media is becoming a (possibly the) most important medium. By leveraging social media, particularly outlets such as LinkedIn, employees can become ambassadors. Constructive and positive messages can be hugely amplified. It's effectively free PR, but more powerful, because it's usually authentic and believable. It’s a two-way street and nobody wants adverse publicity, but usually people say nothing on the likes of Linkedin (normally) if they have nothing positive to say.
Quality leaders and the organisations they lead also recognise the long-term benefit of focusing on human capital development. Getting the best possible team to deliver plans is time-consuming and extremely hard. Many at executive levels see this as an intrusion into their ‘day jobs’ but essentially this is one of the day jobs. It’s necessary – as is taking a vested interest in helping employees thrive in all areas of their lives (not just work). Importantly, value-driven Gen Y and Gen Z talent continues to leave command-and-control style cultures for more collaborative workplaces. And a collaborative culture is one that is led; it doesn’t just occur.
Industry-leading businesses are recognising how staff working from home or freedom of working practice both support the acquisition and retention of top talent. Good leaders recognise that work-life blend is key. Employees won't just opt for bean bags, chocolate fountains and ping pong tables anymore, but will seek employers (and schedules) that allow staff to better blend their work and lives to optimise enjoyment, to add value, to reduce burnout and to increase output.
With the rise in the #MeToo movement and similar initiatives (along with the related publicity), more employers are less tolerant of sexual harassment in the workplace and will work to deal with claims faster and more effectively. That takes strong leadership in ensuring that any initiative is properly balanced and not one-side. Balance and true fairness – hard to achieve – are core attributes of any leader. Leaders, managers, supervisors and, indeed, anyone who is responsible for any leadership, have long managed to get away with vocally supporting policies and procedures, but their actions often say otherwise. That tide is turning. With so much light being shed on unacceptable behaviour in all workplaces, good leaders understand that they need to not only hold their teams accountable for proper behaviour, but hold themselves accountable for managing proper behaviour.
Leaders are now also fully expected to articulate a point of view based not only on belief and fact, but also on practice - on socio-political issues such as diversity, inclusion, religion, racism, demography and immigration. Remaining quiet or ignoring matters is no longer an option. There is a big emphasis on C-suite leaders to develop their abilities to be ambassadors for the values of their companies. That’s what they should be doing anyway, of course.
As the business, political and other landscapes persistently grow in competitive intensity, every organisation must become smarter. Therefore, continuous learning is at the forefront of any management's agenda to gain and sustain a competitive advantage. Learning is no longer confined to formal training, but is extending to online micro-learning platforms and highly focussed in-house on-the-job training. Getting that right requires strength and focus.
Leaders of worth are selfless and unconditional in their strength and focus. They help followers to find their positive mindset. They accept that there is simply no excuse for not adapting to what customers really want.
They understand that traditional industry boundaries are becoming blurred. They believe in disruption and reinventing their organisations. They know that they must master corporate statesmanship, proactively shaping critical societal issues that increasingly affect not only their organisations, but others too. They must focus on creating social as well as economic value - strengthening the social contract between business and community.
Think leadership and what comes to mind? All too often, it’s an image of leadership as a title, reserved for those in the highest echelons of corporations and public institutions. But leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s not a title; it’s a state of being. And it’s not reserved exclusively for the privileged domain of the few in large organisations. Rather, leadership is a way of stepping up, taking responsibility for something and guiding their actions through to a conclusion, one that everyone else agrees is excellent.
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