There is certainly no shortage of scholarship and opinion on how to be a good leader. Countless research projects and thousands of years of analysis have led to a huge variety of models of good leadership. These models may fall in and out of fashion but, at its core, we believe that being an exceptional leader rests on four essential pillars:
Put these pillars in place, understand how they are interconnected, devote time and attention to them each day, and watch how you and your team flourish as a result.
Pillar 1: Listening
Early on in my career I realised how important it is for leaders to listen. As a junior executive I was deeply frustrated when I believed my voice (and the voices of others) was not being heard by our bosses. Even in a social situation, it feels terrible when you realise that the person you’re with isn’t really listening to you. But what about when the opposite happens? How do you feel when someone really focuses on what you’re saying, listening with their full attention? What a difference!
A few years ago, we ran a series of workshops for over 100 leaders and asked them to think of a recent time when someone tried to influence them and failed, and another when someone tried and succeeded. Every leader concluded that the single biggest difference was whether they felt listened to or not.
Listening is not only valued deeply by the person who is talking, it is also an incredible source of information and insight for any leader. It requires time, space and practice, but is quite simply the most important pillar of good leadership. Discover how to improve your listening skills and you will be amazed at the value it delivers.
Pillar 2: Energy
Life as a leader has arguably never been busier or more stressful. Equally, the pressure on our teams is unceasing and it is the job of a good leader to not only manage their own energy, but also that of others.
Part of the skill of managing energy is listening to yourself and to those around you, picking up the clues which tell you when something is wrong. Too often there is a temptation to speed up, to accelerate through challenging times and use momentum to power you, but actually the opposite is true.
Good leadership requires the ability to slow down to speed up, a willingness to press the pause button in order to think and plan. Leaders who manage their energy in this way, and encourage their teams to do the same, are proven to be more effective. As a study by the Economic Intelligence Unit and Harvard Business Review found, “Ultimately, strategic speed is a function of leadership. Teams that become comfortable taking time to get things right, rather than plow [sic] ahead full bore, are more successful in meeting their business objectives. That kind of assurance must come from the top.”
Pillar 3: Authenticity
There should be no simpler concept than ‘being yourself’, yet the ability to be authentic in the workplace does not come easy. It takes enormous courage to show your true self, reveal your insecurities and doubts, demonstrate your emotions and voice your innermost thoughts, but authenticity in leadership can be transformative.
Opening yourself up to others creates an incredible sense of trust. When we run workshops with clients, we often ask each team member to share their hopes and fears, to describe what their role really gives them personally, and why. Crucially, we ask the boss to go first as, by getting them to open this door to a totally honest conversation, it frees the entire team, giving them permission to step forward into authenticity together.
While being authentic can be a brave leap to take, it is also incredibly energising. We all know there is nothing more stressful than pretending to be someone we’re not, so by dropping the façade you will become far more effective at managing your energy, and inspire others to do the same.
Pillar 4: Direction
In our last blog we explored the difference between instruction and direction, noting that, while instruction may be very appropriate in management, direction should be the mainstay of good leadership.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a leader’s job to tell others what to do. Rather, they need to empower their teams to be accountable and take ownership, to solve problems for themselves and decide how best to achieve their goals.
When a leader sets the direction, making clear the purpose and the objective, the team is then able to execute the task as they see fit. Even if obstacles arise, when there is a sense of shared endeavour and an atmosphere of trust, problems can be discussed honestly and overcome together.
Whatever challenges you face, remember to keep these four pillars – Listening, Energy, Authenticity, Direction – at the heart of your LEADership and they will provide the firm foundations on which you can build.
You may also like to know that we mentor leaders and run Leadership Development Programs for developing leaders using this methodology. For further information or support, please get in touch.