Being a good leader; a satisfying experience | Daily News

Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 01:

Being a good leader; a satisfying experience

Today we start a new series about effective business leadership, mainly meant for every leader, whether newbie or experienced. If you are the General Manager, a manager of a specialised field like sales or Human resources, a supervisor, a group leader (or any executive with two or more reporting to you), you will find yourself absorbed very easily in this series and may be able to compare your leadership experience to how we recommend to approach the challenge.

Let us begin by asking ourselves a question. What exactly is “Leadership? “My own simple definition is that leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. In a business setting, this can mean directing workers and colleagues with a strategy to meet the company’s needs.

This leadership definition captures the essentials of being able to inspire others and being prepared to do so. Effective leadership is based upon ideas (whether original or borrowed), but won’t happen unless those ideas can be communicated to others in a way that engages them enough to act as the leader wants them to act.

Put even more simply, the leader is the inspiration and director of the action. He or she is the person in the group that possesses the combination of personality and leadership skills that makes others want to follow his or her direction.In any business, leadership is linked to performance and any leadership definition has to take that into account. While it’s not solely about profit, those who are viewed as effective leaders are those who increase their company’s bottom lines.

Type of leader

Before delving into the first part of the series, let me warn you of the obvious. Leading is complicated. Many tangible and intangible qualities are found in both leaders and those being led that - when combined - contribute to the overall effectiveness of a good leader. Getting people to follow you is a function of inspiring the loyalty of those being led, and understanding what expectations they have of the type of leader they are willing to follow.

In effect, there is a mutual dependence in the relationship, forged through trust, shared values, and mutually desired goals. It is as much art as science. In the course of this series, you will learn much aboutthe lessons I have carved out from my40 years’ experience which, I believe, will help you improve your leadership skills and inspire you to be the best you can be in whatever you do.

Follow another

Let’s be honest, when you think of leadership, your first thought would be great people like Mukesh Ambani and Steve Jobs. That is inspiring, but it can also be intimidating. While these larger-than-life leaders show us what’s possible, they can also make those who are just starting out in their careers (and who are, perhaps, not blessed with outsized self-confidence) feel that being such a leader requires a kind of brilliance that they may never be able to muster.

But according to Simon Sinek, British-American author and organizational consultant, that is exactly the wrong lesson to draw from these visionaries. Of course, you can’t leap from being an idealistic young person to a world-changing leader all in one go, he tells ambitious would-be trailblazers.

There is an intermediary step. Before you can become a great leader, you need to be great follower. And the great leaders of the world are ideally placed to help you with that often-overlooked stage in the journey.

“There is this overwhelming pressure on entrepreneurs, or any of us for that matter, that we all need to have a vision,” Sinek explains, “I think it puts an unfair stress and an unfair burden on all of us.”

Direction

Which is not to say you can just shrug and forget the whole question of your purpose in life. Instead, Sinek says, if articulating your own vision is too big a task for you at your current stage of life, lean on someone further along than you.

“We have to have direction. We have to have a North Star. We have to know where we’re going,” Sinek insists, but “it doesn’t have to be the direction we set. It can be the direction that somebody else sets. So, it’s very important for us to find a leader or find a company or find a vision in whom we believe so that our work is contributing to building that.”

He gives the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The rest said we are following him (meaning Dr. King). We are following that vision. That’s the vision we believe in. And that’s the point. They found a vision that they believe in,” Sinek says, “but we don’t have to invent it and we don’t have to originate it.

Eventually, if you’re passionate about taking up challenges, you may develop your own vision that can fire up others. You may, in other words, evolve into a great leader yourself, but that usually comes after a period of signing up to support another person’s vision.

Understand leadership

Many people consider leadership to be an essentially work-based characteristic. However, leadership roles are all around us and not just in work environments.

Ideally, leaders become leaders because they have credibility, and because people want to follow them. Using this definition, it becomes clear that leadership skills can be applied to any situation where you are required to take the lead, professionally, socially and at home in family settings. Examples of situations where leadership might be called for, but which you might not immediately associate with that, include:

l Planning and organising a big family get-together, for example, to celebrate a wedding anniversary or important birthday;

l Responding to an illness or death in the family, and taking steps to organise care or make other arrangements; and

l Making decisions about moving house, or children’s schooling.

In other words, leaders are not always appointed, and leadership skills may be needed in many circumstances. With apologies to Shakespeare, we might say that “some are born leaders, some achieve leadership, and some have leadership thrust upon them”.

In recent years, considerable evidence has emerged that the strongest organisations and groups tend to permit and actively encourage each member of the group or organisation to take the lead at the appropriate point. Organisations and families with particularly controlling leaders, by contrast, tend to be fairly dysfunctional.

Leadership, therefore, is in practice fairly fluid: leaders are made by circumstances. The crucial issue is that people are prepared to follow them at the right moment.

Develop leadership

Many people wonder if leadership can really be taught.

People with vested interests (academics and those offering leadership training or literature of some sort) are convinced that it can. History is full of people who, while having no previous leadership experience, have stepped to the fore in crisis situations and persuaded others to follow their suggested course of action. They possessed traits and qualities that helped them to step into roles of leadership. For them leadership is a state of mind, and it is their personalities and traits that make them successful leaders.

There is, clearly, a balance to be struck between these two positions. There is no question that some people are intrinsically more drawn towards leadership roles than others. However, it would be nonsense to suggest - although this has been mooted in the past - that only people with certain physical or personal traits could lead.

Leadership skills

It seems most likely that leadership requires certain skills. Some people will acquire these more easily than others.

You can, of course, learn about effective leadership skills and practices but being able to implement them yourself may require an altogether different set of skills and attitudes. The question “Can leadership be taught?” has no simple answer and I do not want to argue for one side or the other, but rather keep an open mind on the subject and provide information about the skills good leaders need.

Leadership styles

A leadership style is a leader’s method of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. Various authors have proposed identifying many different leadership styles as exhibited by leaders in the business or other fields. Studies on leadership style are conducted in the military field, expressing an approach that stresses a holistic view of leadership, including how a leader’s physical presence determines how others perceive that leader.

The factors of physical presence in this context include military bearing, physical fitness, confidence, and resilience.

The leader’s intellectual capacity helps to conceptualize solutions and to acquire knowledge to do the job. A leader’s conceptual abilities apply agility, judgment, innovation, interpersonal tact, and domain knowledge. We will talk in detail about all these sub-headings as we continue.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer.)


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