BLUF – This is merely observation of leadership qualities I’ve seen exemplified. A true leader displays characteristics often overlooked (or paid lip service) by others. The purpose here is to capture some of what was learned, remembering what counts as we move forward.
1. Putting your people first – The prime measure of a leader is how people grow under their care; being concerned about getting the job done by finding the people who can take on the responsibility, growing those people to fuller capacity than previously seen. It’s not about having face time with those in higher positions; rather the work done should be relayed and able to stand of its own. The energy generated is contagious, and people want to extend themselves to meet challenges and reach further. Doing this requires someone who can see the value in the people under them, taking responsibility for their care and further development.
2. Open communication – When decisions are made, especially in senior positions, it’s done with or without communicating that understanding to those whom the decision affects. In many cases there are aspects (resource, political etc.) not visible to others, but affecting the decisions. Subordinates lacking understanding of those influences may affect the future offerings presented. Being clear with a decision’s reasoning makes a huge difference. It is ideal to have people understand and take care of things without needing blessing, knowing when what they are doing should be acceptable and feeling comfortable seeking further guidance when required. This only works if they understand their leadership’s decision making parameters.
3. All in this together – We have different teams, filling different roles, accomplishing different parts of the same mission. It’s up to the leader to bring the different parts together for a unified purpose – so everyone knows and feels how their role contributes to something larger. This ties up all the other components, taking groups of disparate people to create what can truly be considered a team.
4. Planning for expected execution – Lots of people have ideas, some of them good. What is often missing is how to bring the ideas to fruition, requiring time and vision to sort out the elements and resources required to get the plan in order. Setting the foundation for sustainable, consistent delivery requires not only the idea and the planning, but the will and encouragement for yourself and others to carry through on it. Finding the means to make it happen sounds simple, and it is. Yet still rare to find.
5. Managing culture shifts with effective direct and indirect messaging – It is tricky for leaders to shift their team’s culture, depending on the legacy, entrenched depths etc. In part cultural shifts are dependent on the team’s perspective on actions taken/not taken and conversations held/ not held. The challenge of properly identifying the cultural elements of an organisation is matched with understanding how to affect elements needing adjustment. Past being open with dialogue, putting resources in the form of funding/ personnel/ time into efforts – consistently – will gain momentum. A landslide may start with a stone, but don’t expect massive results if the leading stone stops short.
6. Honest self-reflection and acknowledgement – If a message or task fails, the blame falls somewhere between the sender and the receiver. Failure may not be the leader’s fault, but it is still their responsibility. Taking time to reflect and acknowledge vulnerability/ responsibility, and investment in the process provides greater perspective in moving forward.
Failure will happen. We always start somewhere. People look to someone in charting where to go. Collectively. Few leaders show these abilities. The rare one has it in spades.