If you are on Twitter and you search #leadership #leading etc you will tap into a tsunami of leadership advice on how you should BE in order to be an effective leader. This week alone there were 313 leadership tips, dumb mistakes and advice from a wide range of contributors.
When I use the term ‘leader’ I mean ‘commercial leader’. I don’t mean military leader, political or sports leader. Military, politics and sport have very little to do with commercial or business leadership. There are a lot of ex-military, politicians and sport people talking to business people about leadership that have never run anything commercial. They have infrastructure and resources laid on but they haven’t had to create those resources. Often their advice is related to situations and circumstances unrelated to commercial activity.
And when I say ‘commercial leadership’ I’m including corporate or SME leadership – but for this blog I mean established SME leadership. I like what Jack Welch has to say but Jack can throw 50 MBAs at a problem. You and I can’t (usually).
Basically, if you are responsible for a commercial result you are technically in a leadership function.
For context I cut my teeth coaching leaders working in high end compliance – mining, medicine, law, finance, legislation – where if you make a mistake you get heavily fined, reregistered and struck off on a good day. On a bad day someone gets injured or killed.
I became very interested in how those leaders are effective under that level of pressure and trust me when they are under pressure they are not racing back to their bookshelf to see what Jack Welch would do.
They have to act intuitively, decisively and quickly (in many cases). Leadership has to be natural – to them. They have to do what they think needs doing. Not what someone else might do. Of course reading good books shapes their thinking – undeniable – but it has to be natural and innate.
Can that be taught? Yes.
The problem is most leadership training is prescriptive – do this, be this, think this. And academic. And advice usually has a context limited to time and space.
I watched a Youtube by a very well known business leaders who was urging the audience to fire non-performers. “Fire ’em. If they ain’t performing’, fire ’em! Put ’em on the launchpad and boom! Bravado. Swagger.
The reality is their are employment laws to protect good people from that sort of treatment. I have seen enough unfair dismissal hearings to know that employment lawyers love that sort of advice.
So what are effective leaders doing?
There may be more but in my experience I have found five things highly effective commercial leaders are DOING on a consistent basis.
- Aware – they are aware of what’s happening. Effective leaders know what’s happening. Importantly, they know how they feel about what’s happening. There is a strong argument for emotional intelligence and I’m not talking about woo-woo, touchy feely stuff. On a mining site if it doesn’t look right or feel right – pay attention. If you are in aviation if it doesn’t look and feel right – even if your console say otherwise – you better check it out.
- Assert – effective leaders communicate their awareness. They open their gobs and say what’s on their mind. I’m not talking about effective communication or listening strategies although they help enormously. Some of the most effective leaders have no ability to finesse at all. But they communicate their concerns and thoughts with crystal clear clarity. Importantly, the tool here is scrutiny: asking much better questions.
- Agree – effective leaders broker clear agreements. Think of any problem you have at work and business and at back of that is an unclear agreement (and maybe unclear communication). At the heart of those agreements is an understanding that Yes = Yes. No = No and Maybe = Maybe. Those terms are not interchangeable. Yes does not equal No or Maybe.No does not equal Yes or Maybe. They get crystal clear, rock solid agreements, understanding s and undertakings.If you are overweight and the cause is eating junk food and no exercise then at the heart of that is a crappy agreement with yourself. Most people quit on their own agreements. January 21 is historically the day most New Years resolutions stall.
- Accountable – highly effective leaders solve problems – yes – but importantly, they manage agreements. There is a huge difference. It sounds like: “Did you agree to do this? Or not?” The accountability step is not about getting information – its about raising accountability. See when a leader at this level asks a question they are not interested in the information. They already know the answer. Then purpose of the question is raise accountability. To manage agreements. If you have delegation issues – bio back a step and revisit your agreements. Also if your agreements are crappy, you can predict delegation issues.
- Adjust – this is the one thing that totally impresses and continues to impress me. Effective leaders can admit when they are contributing to the problem OR they ARE the problem. They can admit when they are wrong. They are willing to reflect, inspect and adjust their game. The worst leaders stay defensive, aggressive and volatile or resentful. I have seen leaders in the most stressful of conditions that weren’t working admit their part in a poor outcome. And then adjust. That ethos creates a culture that is palpable. It is 180 degrees removed from “Fire ’em (expletive)!”
Importantly, they lead naturally based on their qualifications, training, knowledge, skills and experience. And they stay within the laws.
I am about to put my new book to bed on leading naturally. If you’d like to read some advance chapters please email me.
Andrew Priestley is a high-end business leadership coach, speaker and author based in London, UK. He created the Business Leadership Profile (BLP) used globally.
Key words: leadership, leading, management training, leadership coaching.