In my opinion, one of the worst ways in which a leader can be viewed is as the bossman or woman ‘in-charge’, who makes all of the decisions and tells others what to do. I agree there are elements of this that align with some aspects of what leadership is but this particular perspective of leaders as ‘lords’ ruling over subjects troubles me deeply. It is unfortunate to find this view among the followers or line-members within an organization but it is far more concerning (even scary) when the ‘leader’ embraces and perpetuates it. Personally, this is an ideology I have intentionally and forcefully stayed far away from in my own career.
I have always believed that very early on in life and in their roles, true leaders come to understand that they need to work with others in order to reach their vision, accomplish their missions or achieve their objectives. The days of the ‘one-man-army’ or the ‘superstar-boss’ are long gone and effective leaders seek to bring people together, recognizing that there is strength in numbers. As Ken Blanchard states: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
Few could be considered a bigger superstar than Michael Jordan but even he understood the value and power of having an effective team around him. He said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” Leaders who believe that they, and only they, have all the answers to any question and the solutions to every problem are well on their way to limited success, if any at all.
The story is told of a military General who, in the face of an imminent enemy attack, had to devise a plan to counter this while advancing his troops towards meeting the mission objectives. One of his subordinates found some critical information during a satellite scan of the area and in an intelligence briefing shared his perspectives on the best way to have a successful operation. Unfortunately, the General refused to accept the briefing simply because he ‘knew’ better and he devised and proceeded to execute his own plan. As the story goes, the subordinate’s intelligence was correct and the General’s plan failed miserably, costing lives and ultimately leading to the failure of the mission.
Leaders build teams. They understand the value of and actively seek out the contributions of others as they collectively work towards a common goal. Effective leaders bring people together and will often times be the glue that holds the team in place through failures and successes, through victory and even defeat. They do this through communication, compassion and consistency.
Effective leaders know how to communicate with their teams in a manner that even though each individual’s level of understanding varies, they all catch what the leader is throwing out. One of the first and most critical elements to be communicated to a team will be the leader’s vision for the group, organization or country. A blurred, unclarified vision will cause people to wander off track and question their role or purpose in the entity as it seeks to reach its objectives. A leader who fails to communicate effectively with his or her team, will fail to connect with that team and the team will ultimately fail. Paul Meyer wrote: “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.”
Compassion, another attribute that effective leaders possess, helps them build winning teams. Compassion in leadership speaks to leading with your heart and not only your head. There are times when you have to temporarily push aside what you know (mentally) to be best for the company and give place to what you know (emotionally) is best for that team member.
For example: a team member may have an emergency situation at home – it may not be a case of life or death but it causes them to worry. Having them stay and ‘produce’ is what the company will always need but compassion dictates that we need to feel what that employee is feeling and in allowing them to attend to that issue, we will have an employee who returns with a clear mind and, even more valuable, one who now knows that their leader is compassionate. Karen Armstrong sums this up perfectly: “In compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and we put another person there.”
Consistency in leadership speaks to a leader’s ability to always show similar levels of positivity, passion and fairness across varied circumstances. Leaders who are consistent in their styles, speech and especially their behaviour, will engender confidence in those who follow them; the followers will have a reasonable level of accuracy in expecting the leader to act in a particular manner. This creates simpler and more productive environments as the team members won’t have to figure out what mood the leader is in and how to adjust their requests to suit such. Consistent leaders will bring comfort to their followers which will result in improved organizational performance.
Leaders who communicate effectively, exhibit compassion and who are consistent in their dealings with others will be able to build strong and effective teams. Let’s make it happen.
On a personal note, due to an increasingly demanding schedule, I am going to be taking a break from producing this weekly article. I know that it has been a valuable resource for many and I look forward to resuming it in the not too distant future. Until then, let’s all endeavour to become the leaders we are destined to be!
(Davidson Ishmael holds a MBA in Leadership and Innovation and is an operations manager in the financial services sector. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)