Most searches for leadership on the internet nowadays produce results that give a ‘how to’ list of how one can become a great leader. Unfortunately, leadership is not like cooking, where following a sequence of steps in a recipe results in delicious food, provided one has the basic skills for cooking. While ‘how to’ lists can occasionally serve an inspirational purpose, they do express some well-known and commonly accepted realities. The below points should be seen as subjective and a sample, and not as an ultimate and exhaustive collection of what could be:
Leadership is a lot (really a lot) of hard work.
Leaders need to keep themselves updated with the latest developments in their field and nowadays, due to the disruptive nature of the market, the latest developments in other fields too. This requires a lifelong commitment to studying supplemented by a lifelong commitment to acquiring new skills as simple as thumb texting on a cell-phone to applying complicated financial calculations and planning complicated processes and strategies.
Self-esteem is more important than self-confidence.
People usually find it easier to build their self-confidence than their self-esteem and, conflating one with the other, may end up with a long list of abilities and achievements. Rather than facing up to their imperfections and failures, they hide them behind their certificates and prizes. However, a long list of abilities and achievements is neither sufficient nor necessary for healthy self-esteem. While people keep on working on their list in the hope that it might one day be long enough, they try to fill the emptiness inside them with status, income, possessions, relationships, sex and so on. Achievements and intelligence are no substitute for wisdom.
Dialogue adds more value than discussions and certainly more than debates.
Dialogue shapes points of view by mutually reaching a common ground that could be closer to that of one of the participants. In dialogue, one submits one’s best thinking, expecting that other people’s reflections will help improve it rather than threaten it. In dialogue, one listens to understand, to make meaning and to find common ground. Discussions are less aggressive processes for discovering the truth than debates, where one aggressively defends assumptions as truth in order to ensure victory. They don’t achieve solutions as effectively as dialogue does, as the focus is on the flaws and differences of positions.
From time to time, conduct a personal SWOT and PEST analysis.
The world has been loaded with information that in most times is noise. Leaders need to be able to distinguish the signal from the noise in the information flood around them. This requires the ability to concentrate and focus on demand so that they can screen the information they receive for the gold nuggets of quality that are necessary for solving the problem or issue they are facing. When this isn’t enough, they need to be able to exercise their influence and engage their network of collaborators and affiliates to receive the added knowledge and expertise they miss.
Change is the norm.
The future will definitely pose challenges, but for today’s leaders. change in all forms is a reality. Change might include different geographical locations where a leader might have to engage, changes in job description, changes in outcomes like moving from success to failure and bouncing back, and changes of perspective, among others. In order to survive in such an environment, leaders need to be alert of present trends, to anticipate future ones, and to develop an adaptive mindset to easily assimilate the realities of situations while exercising critical thinking and insight.
Appreciate questions more than answers.
In a world that doesn’t change, answers are gold, but in a world that changes, existing answers will not work for new problems. Questions that help to focus attention and effort on the direction to follow in order to find solutions are more valuable. Questions invite a different and more powerful form of participation. It’s no longer just about spreading the word and persuading others – it’s about inviting others to explore a new domain and to help generate new ideas and insights. Leaders can become mobilizers, helping to draw in new people and creating environments where people can connect and explore an evolving agenda of questions. The most powerful networks would take the form of creation spaces that support the formation of tightly knit teams and then connect these teams in a broader space where they can seek out help from each other.
Copy and paste and paraphrase (ideas and best practices).
There is no need to re-invent the wheel. The competition is not about originality of ideas and leadership practices – it is about the organization’s growth in accordance to its vision and mission. Paraphrasing is critical here as what might work in one situation for one organization might need a certain amount of adaptation in order to work for another.
The normal distribution rules but does not dominate.
This is meant to mean that while cultures are different, people are different, etc., there are differences in behaviour and character within social and professional groups. This is also the truth about everything around us. Not everyone is smart and there is always someone smarter and more capable than us. If you are dealing with a conservative culture, it doesn’t mean that the person you are talking to is conservative. If you are dealing with a culture where discipline is valued, it doesn’t mean that the person you are working with is disciplined. In other words, reflect the opinion or perceptions of 68% of the population; there will still be a significant percentage of the population that doesn’t fit the stereotype (Figure 7.14).
Figure 7.14 The normal distribution of stereotypes
All decisions are influenced by emotions.
We are chemically based decision support systems, so the elementary/atomic blocks of our constitution are chemicals. Prominent among these are the neurotransmitters that regulate the communication between neurons in our brain and hormones that regulate our bodies. If any of these categories doesn’t work properly, we won’t be able to be successful in terms of our decision making. Both systems are interrelated as they affect each other, but one way to distinguish between the two is that neurotransmitters mediate the flow of information between neurons, while hormones mediate communication from out brain to our body cells. Excluding our genetic predisposition, which we currency cannot control, we need to be cautious of the effects of poor diet, stress and addictions (substance abuse and/or compulsive behaviour abuse) that can affect the levels of neurotransmitters and hormones and, as a result, our mental capability to properly process information communicated to our brain and body.
Being a good leader doesn’t mean you will continue to be a good leader.
Anyone can be a leader in the right circumstances with the right upbringing, the right mentoring, the right coaching, the right personality, the right training, the right education, the right skills, the right intelligence, the right wisdom, etc.
If you are not discouraged yet about the leader’s job description, go back to the first life hack, otherwise exit (humour sustains sanity even in the worst situations).