Today’s leaders are continuously being watched and evaluated by people who want to ensure that their leader is capable of helping them achieve their dreams
“Leadership qualities are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.” – John Holt
Leadership must be the most-written about topic, yet authentic leadership is probably the least practiced. So what is leadership about? Most would agree that it is not about power, position or title, influence or the maximum number of followers. Authentic leadership starts with self and then extends to others. If you want to be a true leader, you need to concentrate on only two things – Your own conduct, thoughts, actions and beliefs and how to deal with every single person who crosses your path. There is no other formula to true leadership. In the words of Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa, “Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 per cent of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct...”
One of the most forgotten values is the spirit of stewardship, which comes with every position.
Whether in society or an organization, you hold positions or titles in trust and need to pass them on to someone else but until you hold the title, you need to discharge your responsibility with the highest amount of integrity, diligence and care. This spirit of stewardship is an unwritten code often forgotten in the celebration of title. Stewardship is the core of leadership. If the core is forgotten, then you have lost the plot and are hurtling down a slippery path like a car whose brakes have failed. Stop and think about it, before you strive for someone else’s definition of how to be a good leader; it is imperative that you learn how to clearly see who you are first. Only then can you truly be a leader.
The essence of leadership lies in everyday actions and the way you influence the lives of those around you. It is the culture of integrity, excellence and thoughtful action that will last longer than your titles – people will forget what position you may have held – what people do not forget however is the way you work, the way you deal with others and the legacy you leave behind through your network of influence. It’s not the end but the journey which is important. There are no short cuts to success. A leader needs to be a mentor, guide and a creator of future value; he needs to lead by example by defining the standards. He needs to demonstrate humility, team spirit, passion, courage and commitment to the organization and to his people. The leader needs to be a great motivator with unquestionable integrity and above all a role model. When you become leaders, you need to understand that a huge amount of responsibility is cast upon you, you have to live up to the reputation that gets built around you. You need to conduct yourselves with standards that are far higher than for other people.
Internet and social media today have not only helped dissolve geographical boundaries but have also removed the barriers of hierarchy in the corporate world. Today’s leaders are continuously being watched and evaluated by people who want to ensure that their leader is capable of helping them achieve their dreams. Leaders therefore need to continuously challenge themselves. They need to earn their stripes by their leadership style and ability to add value. Authentic leaders are highly evolved individuals who are aware of their strengths and their limitations. They are not afraid to show their true selves to others. They do not have different public and private personalities. They realise that accepting their mistakes or being emotional is not weak. In fact, a lot of great leaders are known to carry their heart on their sleeves; they think not just from their head but also from the heart.
In truth, empathy may be the most underappreciated and overlooked strategic leadership trait. The key is to build trust, engagement and passion. Leaders who take time to understand the needs of their employees can provide them with the support that they need to excel. A culture of trust acts a catalyst for employees to build and strengthen relationship with the organisation and with other staff and clients. To foster a culture of trust, look at your control systems – are they built to cater to 98 per cent of the population who can be trusted or are they built on the basis of a deviant 2 per cent? Are you creating an environment of doubt and scepticism or transparency and trust? Be careful while building the foundation, you cannot change the DNA later on.
Communication is critical and so is the ability to listen to people. “Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That's how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.” – Peter Nulty had said.
Leaders expect respect but they need to understand that they need to first give respect and then earn it through their behavior. Managers need to respect an employee’s point of view, feelings and personal time. Be accessible, honor an appointment with your employee as much as you honor it with your client. When communicating, be clear about your vision and goals, remove uncertainty. People find it easier to handle bad news but not uncertainty. Try and resolve problems instead of hiding them. The leader needs to build lasting relations, which go beyond the tenure of service of the employee. This requires a huge investment of personal time in this endeavor. When you send out your people into the world, remember that they become your ambassadors and they will remember how you treated them. For an organization whose leader has helped build careers and develop people, who treated people with respect and care, ex employees will do more brand building than a traditional marketing campaign. In the words of Howard Schutlz “Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can't expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don't exceed the employees' expectations of management”.
Leadership requires hard work and patience to nurture the organization as well as the individuals but if you have all the right things, if you combine your vision and determination with a culture of personal and professional integrity, a culture of trust and treating people well, the rewards are plenty. The smaller rewards will be profitability and efficiency but the greater rewards are the difference you would have made to the world around you. The measure of leadership is not found in the leader but in the positive lasting impact that the leader has on his followers. In the words of Peter F. Drucker, “Leadership is not magnetic personality that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not "making friends and influencing people", that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person's vision to higher sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”
Authentic leadership cannot be achieved without leading from the front. You cannot ask your people to do something you are not willing to do yourself. You cannot sit and watch from the sidelines, you have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and be in the trenches with the troops. You have to lead the initiative. Leaders’ need to first do then the employee will themselves do it. In the movie “We were soldiers” Lt Co Moore had said to his soldiers before leaving for Vietman,” We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.”