It was a good good day. We set out as a group of people who found themselves thrust into a common bond called leadership. We ended it round the fireplace, a newly forming team nursing tea or glasses of something (to each his own). Looking at the blazing fire gives one a new perspective. It automatically takes you to a place of vulnerability in the presence of such barely leashed power. We found the reflection on a past some care to relive and others just want to get past. Then the question came. What is the most significant lesson you have learned about leadership in your experience?
A log settled with a shower of sparks and almost as one, I could see people’s minds begin to spin as we took that journey back into a time when we were definitely younger, more adventurous and when the length of our experience was shorter than the number of years we had lived. (That is rapidly changing)
Let Go! Lead & Follow
The first observation was that leaders must learn to lead and allow others to follow. The act of taking ones place as a leader seems obvious,but isn’t as easy as it sounds . It was one of the earliest lessons we learnt. You do. You receive instructions. You execute. You learn how to do perfectly,and just when you become an expert you are promoted. Most people struggle to make the transition and allow the team to take on their previous tasks. A leader must let go, allow people to learn, to execute and make mistakes,trust them, empower them and most important be there to help them learn from any mistakes they make. It is leadership 101.
Leading successfully ironically, also requires that you be a good follower. Our biggest assumption of leadership is that it allows you to set the targets and determine the direction, the consensus is that good leadership requires submission. It requires one to embrace the opportunity to listen to those they lead,to take direction from those who lead them and enrich this with their vision of where they would like the team to go. In the submission to unpopular decisions there is pain,however in walking in obedience comes exaltation.
People & Relationship are the Gold Standard
Leadership is about people. We lead people not processes and definitely not assets. In the pursuit of followers, we must learn to make our own judgments about people after getting to know them. A common pitfall is to lead others and make inferences about their character and ability based on perceptions. Leaders must walk the floor and know their people.
To lead people effectively we must recognize leadership is about relationship. We must care about the people and value them and not just professionally, but that we value the whole person. When our teams know we care, they give their best willingly and work becomes an expression of care. In this world we all need to be reminded we are loved,cared for and appreciated for ourselves and not just for what we do.
Listen Wisely. Feedback Appropriately.
Leaders should carry praise lightly and value feedback greatly no matter where it comes from. Leaders we agreed must learn to give God the glory ascribed to them immediately to avoid the pitfall of pride. They should praise generously those they lead where it is deserving. One must also invest in developing a core group who will speak the truth to you in love when you need feedback. They become fewer the higher you go. Authentic Leadership is about learning how to listen. Listen to your team, listen to your colleagues, listen to your customers, listen to your supervisors and yes, listen to your enemies too. Truth comes in all sorts of places.
Conduct the choir not the Audience.
The desire to be popular with the people took its justifiable place as a lesson learnt very painfully. Leadership is wonderful when you have the full endorsement and popularity with the people, but a leader must be ready to make decisions that may not be popular with them. It is the honor of a king to search out matter and after doing so, leadership requires that we decide and that sometimes means taking an unpopular stand and building consensus round it.
Become a mine sweeper!
Organizational politics emerged as the most disturbing issue and perhaps the minefield of leadership. In this minefield, investing in relationships keeps you aware of the mines. Invest in people no matter their position, one day you may encounter them on your way or down. Diplomacy aka known as knowing how to tell people to go to hell and allowing them to enjoy the journey is a skill you MUST acquire.
Tact which is deliberately perfecting the art of knowing when to speak, what to say and who to say it to emerged as the best strategies to managing this. Politics is unavoidable and a leaders job is to manage this while minimizing it within their teams.
Be Real. Set the people free.
As the night drew to a close we agreed that Leadership is a journey it’s not a destination and in this journey people want you to be authentic. As leaders, we sometimes want to protect our image and show ourselves as strong and invincible. We must learn to wisely share our experiences , confess our failures. We must allow others to have the freedom to know that leadership is not a journey for the perfect but a preserve for those who are willing to learn from their mistakes, fall down and start over.