Teach yourself leadership in a few easy steps

Where would you expect to find leadership in any oganisation – at the top? Possibly. But it would be a mistake to think that was always the case. Take a look at any army; the senior officers have the strategy in view, but it’s the sargeants who do the ‘heavy lifting’ to make sure the job actually gets done…

Three years after the death of a friend a mutual acquaintance asked why this man was still held in such high regard by a lot of the people we both knew. I’d never thought of it before, and was unable to answer straight away. To say he had been a good guy was undoubtedly true, but it seemed too easy an answer.

After some thought I was able to say that he had possessed a happy knack of making people want to do things, and to enjoy doing them to the best of their ability. I didn’t say it in so many words, but he had been a leader. The result was an organisation that was in harmony, where everyone gave of their best, and as a result created something successful that it was a pleasure to be part of.

Which is what doesn’t often happen in business. In business, at least those businesses structured as hierarchies, management positions are often filled by people who have done well at a particular job, and earn a ‘promotion’ as a result. This overlooks what ought to be obvious; that someone who makes a valuable contribution to a project team, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have the skills to lead the same team. It’s called The Peter Principle, developed by Canadian Laurence J Peter, and says that individuals will rise in an organisation until they reach their level of incompetence.

So how do you become a leader?
Leadership Qualities

Being a leader is a skill, and because of that it can be learned – but isn’t necessarily taught in any formal way, because the right answers will be different depending on who’s being led.
However, for someone who’s been in a supervisory or management role, or for an entrepreneur thinking of taking on their first employees in a start-up business, ‘today’ is the best time to discover how to do it better (or to do it for the first time).

Your objective as a leader is completely different for your objective as a manager or boss. HE or she sits at a particular point in a hierarchy; a leader can be anywhere. The ‘manager’ part is easy; probably defined by graphs, charts, numbers and targets. They matter to you, but matter less than the people you have to lead. What’s import to them is, well, them.

See the person: And with that in mind, imagine that every employee has a flashing neon sign above his or her head saying ‘Notice Me’. And that’s what you should do. Get to know them, try to learn about their families and their hobbies, and make a point of asking about them. It seems simple, but it reinforces the team spirit, and softens the blow, for want of a better phrase, when you have to say: “We need to achieve this…” One manager we know was required to deal with significant under performance by a colleague. There was tension in the air. But the colleague’s wife was ill, so the conversation began with an inquiry after her health followed by a discussion of the prognosis and treatment. The hour-long conversation ended amicably with agreement to address the performance issues, even though they’d formed only about 25% of what had been said.

Involve everyone: If you think you know all the answers, or behave as if you do, you’re doomed. When an unusual task needs to be performed, or performance needs to be improved, ask for opinions about how it should be tackled. Listen to all the answers; factor them in, and offer your own view. Then make a decision, explain it, and define the plan of action. Employees are far more likely to co-operate if you’ve listened to their input – after all, they might have thought of something you’d overlooked. But when defining the way the job will be done, remember your objectives; you’ll still need to achieve them.

Reward everyone: Saying ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ doesn’t have to cost any money or time, and involves next to no effort. When did you last say it to the people in your team? Think of, and act on, other gestures of thanks appropriate to the size of the team and what you’re thanking them for. A tin of biscuits? An Indian meal? A day off on their birthday? A bonus at an appropriate public holiday? No doubt you could think of something suitable for your situation.

LeaderAct ethically: Don’t do things you’ve expressly forbidden employees to do, like ignoring the dress code, ordering better sandwiches, using the phone for personal calls. You’ll think of others.

Honour commitments: If you can’t do something, don’t promise you will. If you do promise, make sure you do it. Every time.

Earn respect: No one has a right to be given respect simply because of their position in an organisation. It has to be earned, and earning it requires constant effort in behaving responsibly, being reasonable and being firm but fair.

Have fun: Why shouldn’t there be laughter in the workplace? Happy people work better than unhappy ones. Anyone who’s unhappy will find others of the same mindset, and will then spend a lot of time talking about their unhappiness instead of working, which won’t help your objectives.

Achieve objectives: When you’ve created an atmosphere in which you’re surrounded by happy, mutually-supportive people working in harmony, you’ll have become a leader, because people will want to do what’s necessary. They’ll quite possibly be doing it for you rather than for your organisation, but will that matter? Only to you – because you’ll be hitting targets, and you’ll be doing so not through management but through something far more precious – leadership.