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HomemifeatureLeadership: Getting the Best from You and Your Team

Leadership: Getting the Best from You and Your Team

If I had one ticket I could use at the theme park, I would use it for the leadership ride! It can be a roller coaster; there are some scary moments, an adrenalin rush, occasional disappointment and when it finishes you get off and think to yourself, “Wow, that was a hell of a ride, I’d love to do it again!”. Make no mistake, leadership is about results! Great leadership has the potential to excite people to extraordinary levels of achievement.

A definition of leadership is, “Anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people, and who has the courage to develop that potential”.

Leadership has been the subject of an exceptional amount of research and discussion. You would think that by now, we would have a handle on how to ensure leaders are consistently nurtured so we can get the best out of ourselves and our team members. Thirty-five years of hands-on experience managing teams tells me that we are a long way off that mark, and there are a number of contributing factors. If I had to pinpoint one factor more than any other, it’s simply a lack of understanding of what’s required to be a good leader. Extending that is a lack of desire to change, build knowledge and act.

It starts with you recognising that leadership is a privilege and that serving others is the only valid motivation for leadership

Figure 1

A definition of leadership is, “Anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people, and who has the courage to develop that potential”.

Leadership has been the subject of an exceptional amount of research and discussion. You would think that by now, we would have a handle on how to ensure leaders are consistently nurtured so we can get the best out of ourselves and our team members. Thirty-five years of hands-on experience managing teams tells me that we are a long way off that mark, and there are a number of contributing factors. If I had to pinpoint one factor more than any other, it’s simply a lack of understanding of what’s required to be a good leader. Extending that is a lack of desire to change, build knowledge and act.

In her book Dare to Lead, research professor Dr Brene Brown made the comment that studying leadership is way easier than leading. In response to the question, “What, if anything, about the way people are leading needs to change for leaders to be successful in a more complex world?”, the consensus across senior managers interviewed was; “We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures”.

This is true, but other than that, what characterises a great leader?

As Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones suggested in the Harvard Business School Press in 2006, there are no universal leadership characteristics. Reflecting on my own leadership journey, I identified 54 individual characteristics.

Yes, 54!

You couldn’t possibly expect to be competent across that many characteristics. Among this extensive list, I would suggest that five are more important than others – relationships, emotional intelligence, vulnerability, selflessness and purpose. Here I will briefly examine each characteristic.

PRACTICAL TIP

Make a commitment to have a meaningful conversation with your team members on a regular scheduled basis. There is no right or wrong in terms of frequency or duration. Recent thinking proposes that weekly catch up chats work best, but it’s perhaps more manageable to start with a monthly chat for 30 minutes. Content can vary and should cover topics such as performance against agreed objectives, behaviour, personal development and a simple check in on how the person is feeling about work and beyond. All these factors impact engagement and productivity in the workplace.
RELATIONSHIPS

It may seem like stating the obvious, but leadership is relational – it’s done with other people. During my seven plus years working in optometry with ProVision, I was often told by practice owners, “I don’t think I’ll ever be good at this leadership stuff Rob, I’m not a people person”. I was always bemused and asked if they had a life partner, and when the answer was yes, we would joke that they must have shown some useful relationship skills at some stage! To simplify, being good in this space is more about being genuinely interested in the people you work with every day. The key word here is ‘genuinely’.

To assist, I suggest you review the Johari Window (Figure 1), a model developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955. Designed to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others, it is as meaningful today as it was 65 years ago. If nothing else, I encourage you to have a rich appreciation for the Open, Hidden and Blind Spot quadrants.

PRACTICAL TIP

Undertake an assessment of the six emotionally intelligent leadership competencies. This can be done through the leaders in this space – Genos (www. genosinternational.com). Their role is to help leaders facilitate high performance. The results of the assessment then need to be put in to action.
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Daniel Goleman is recognised as being instrumental in raising universal awareness of emotional intelligence (EI) with the publication, in 1996, of his book Emotional Intelligence – Why it Can Matter More than IQ. Daniel describes EI as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. When you express your emotions inappropriately, you put team members under stress. They don’t think clearly and they make poor decisions.

The competitive reality is putting EI at a premium in the workplace, resulting in employers being able to maximise employee productivity and engagement. The cost – nothing except a commitment to be more emotionally intelligent and seek feedback on a regular basis from your team members, along with lots of self-reflection.

PRACTICAL TIP

Think about the way you conduct yourself as a leader now. How much time do you devote to having meaningful conversations with your team members? (Refer back to the practical tip under Relationships). When a team member asks for your help, do you tell them you’re too busy at the time and you’ll come back to them later, or do you drop everything and have the conversation?

Reflect on your style and make the necessary changes. Now, if you really want to be courageous and show your vulnerability, ask your team members something like this, “Is there anything you would like me to do or change to be more supportive of you?”. Yes, this is a situation where you can’t predict the outcome and you may well get that kick in the ass! I guarantee it will be worth asking the question.

VULNERABILITY

This is a characteristic that is receiving more widespread commentary and acknowledgement in terms of its importance in being an effective leader. Quoting again from Dr Brene Brown, “the courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome – and sometimes you’re going to get kicked in the ass”. Arguably, this is the toughest challenge for any business owner. It often involves a willingness to remove our tough façade.

Team members want us to express our vulnerability. One of my team members at ProVision wrote, “I’m always inspired by your authenticity and your willingness as a leader to be open and share your vulnerability. It is one of your true superpowers”. That demonstrated the positive impact of my willingness to be vulnerable and made me want to display it more often.

SELFLESSNESS

My experience as a leader tells me that this is the single most important characteristic in terms of getting the most out of team members. It starts with you recognising that leadership is a privilege and that serving others is the only valid motivation for leadership. It requires enormous emotional commitment and willingness to be selfless. It’s worth all the effort – responsibility centred leadership brings unparalleled rewards and amazing results!

PRACTICAL TIP

Assuming your business or practice has a clearly articulated purpose or vision, get into the routine of talking about it at staff meetings and during one-onone conversations with team members. Remind everyone why they are here and the role they play in helping you achieve that purpose.
PURPOSE

So much has been written about people wanting meaningful work or purpose. We simply don’t want to turn up for the pay cheque (at least most people don’t!). Jon Katzenbach, Managing Director of Price Waterhouse, was quoted as saying, “While successful businesses must focus on market penetration, product differentiation, shareholder return and customer loyalty, those that really succeed are those that balance employee needs with those other factors. Ultimately, how people feel about their work and their connection to it drive these business outcomes.”

TAKE THE FIRST STEP

I recognise that this can all sound overwhelming. Make no mistake, leadership isn’t for everyone. You have to want to be a leader. If you’re one of the 1,800 or so independent optometry practice owners in Australia or part of a corporate group, it’s a space that you can’t afford to neglect. Pat Riley, former player and five-time National Basketball Association coach, was quoted as saying that, “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better”. To do that, you have to take the first step.

So, could I suggest that you select one or two of the five characteristics presented in this article and commit to gaining the knowledge to improve your leadership skills and demonstrate the capability to change. By association, you will be on the pathway to getting the best out of yourself and your team. Good luck!

Rob Ellis is an independent speaker and coach and provides full day workshops on the subjects of leadership (discussed here) as well as retail WOW, people, culture and B2B customer management. Visit robellis.com.au.

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