By SANDY CLARKE
Leadership ‒ the ability to bring people together to work towards and bring about a shared vision.
It sounds like such a simple concept, and one that should, ideally, run smoothly within a business or organisation. How difficult can it be to lead people?
When it comes to effective leadership, the word ‘people’ is key. Leadership is complex and multi-faceted because people are complex and multi-faceted.
We all come with our different skillsets, strengths, weaknesses, communication styles, perceptions, opinions, ideas, preferences, and dislikes.
We also have different needs, and we grow and develop at different rates. And while some of us might be enthusiastic extroverts, some will be inquisitive introverts, and others will have ambivert personalities.
In guiding their followers to achieve goals and objectives, ineffective leaders will often disregard the nuances of each personality and discard the importance of positive dynamics and harmony within their teams.
An ineffective leader might feel that people are paid to do a job, so they should get on and do it, regardless of their thoughts, feelings, and needs.
This kind of approach to leadership will yield little results. Employees might do what is asked of them, but they are unlikely to go much further than compliance.
In order to get the best out of each employee, effective leaders build resonant relationships with their team members, they show courage in their leadership, communicate openly and honestly, and they are able to inspire and motivate their followers.
Professor Daniel Goleman is a globally-recognised expert on leadership and emotional intelligence. On what he calls primal leadership, he says, “Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us.
“When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions.”
“No matter what leaders set out to do ‒ whether it’s creating strategy or mobilising teams to action – their success depends on how they do it.
“Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”
What makes an effective leader?
In order to become an effective leader, there needs to first be an understanding of what leadership is. In a nutshell, we might say leadership is the ability to influence others.
But more importantly, effective leaders influence others while maintaining integrity, and they know that being a leader and being a manager are two entirely different approaches when it comes to influencing others.
Effective leaders build relationships
They don’t separate themselves from their team, and in leading by example, they are able to instil a ‘can-do’ attitude among their followers.
They understand the power of personal choices, that people who choose to follow a leader will invest more of themselves in shared goals, compared to those who feel compelled to follow the instructions of an ineffective leader.
The heart of any business or project consists of the relationships that are formed between leaders and their followers, which is why it is vital for any leader worth their salt to know and appreciate the different personalities within their team.
Inevitably, this will prove to be a valuable investment as conflict arises between team members – effective leaders, armed with sufficient understanding of their teams, will be better placed to resolve any issues that might arise.
In today’s marketplace, it’s not uncommon to find employees from different generations working together in teams, and this reality highlights the importance of leaders and their willingness to embrace diversity and get to know the different perspectives that each generation brings with it.
By doing so, effective leaders are able to engage smoothly across the board and, as a result, influence others in a way that ensures respect, acceptance, and cohesion within their teams.
A crucial factor for leaders who look to build relationships and establish rapport with their followers lies in bringing a positive attitude to their leadership style.
Effective leaders inspire and motivate
Those who are able to continually inspire, motivate, and influence others know the value of positivity in helping to build and maintain relationships of trust and respect between them and their team members.
In building a high-trust work environment, studies have shown that such environments foster an increase not just in productivity and innovation, but also in levels of support and nurturing between team members who come to see each other almost as family members and so, they work together as such.
Compare such an ideal environment with one, that is perhaps toxic due to colleagues who see each other as competition and so, allow themselves to get caught up in unhelpful behaviours such as office politics or looking to ‘get one over’ on each other at every opportunity in order to ‘impress the boss’.
None of this is at all helpful, neither for the individuals concerned nor the business as a whole.
Effective leaders have the ability to develop the kinds of environments, behaviours, and attitudes that are conducive to positive business outcomes.
They cultivate situational awareness through emotional intelligence, and are able to attune themselves to their followers in order to help them reach their full potential and give the best of themselves in working towards shared goals and objectives.
Effective leaders are proactive
But the best leaders are also aware of the need to constantly develop their own attitudes, behaviours, and skills.
While ineffective leaders might see themselves as having ‘made it’ ‒ thanks to an impressive title or salary ‒ effective leaders know that if they wish to grow and develop others to be the best that they can be, they themselves have to go through that same journey of growth and development.
This takes courage to step out of their comfort zones, to continually learn and improve as the needs of the business and industry start to change, as they so often do in today’s ever-evolving market.
In seeking to continually develop themselves, effective leaders keep in mind perhaps the most important lesson of all: how to effectively manage stress.
As even the greatest leaders know, it is crucial to recognise the signs of stress and to take regular time out for self-reflection, exercise, meditation, family and friends.
Leaders who have engaged in effective training programmes have no doubt recognised this last point as being arguably the most important – without knowing how to take care of ourselves, whatever we do invariably suffers as a result.
Becoming an effective leader is a complex and multi-faceted challenge but, at the same time, when leaders have the right tools and resources to perform their role well, there is nothing better than being able to inspire, motivate, and influence others to bring about a shared vision.
In business, the bottom line matters, but being able to lead with a sense of purpose and helping others to achieve meaningful goals matters just as much in terms of creating success, empowering others, and building a positive legacy that can continue to benefit the business and its customers.
Prefer an e-mag reading experience? This article is also available in our 3rd November, 2018 digital issue. Access our digital issues here.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.