I have been in people leadership roles for over 15 years now, and I’m always amazed at how there is always something new to learn or lesson to absorb.
I have always enjoyed reading books and articles about effective leadership, and I concur that all of the most advocated “top 10 leadership qualities” are spot on. You can’t lead people effectively without honesty, delegation skills, communication, confidence, commitment, positivity, creativity, intuition, inspiration and by being approachable.
But there are more. The recent 10 year anniversary of the company I helped found saw me reflecting on the fact that over the years I’ve learned some valuable leadership lessons – usually the hard way. I have then gone on and applied these lessons more successfully in future situations. Some are fundamental, some are simple; but all are true and based on my own real experiences. Here are my “not quite top 10” leadership secrets:
11: Always carefully check your attire and grooming before a tense meeting
No matter how well prepared you are for delivering that disciplinary message or difficult feedback, you will lose a lot of impact if you are told your fly is undone by the recipient. Same goes for food marks, inadequately cleared nasal passages and visible undergarments.
12: Prepare for every public speaking situation regardless of audience, situation or duration
Be it a keynote address or valued employee anniversary – put at least some thought into what you are going to say. I have only ever choked in front of a crowd once (a group of peers and senior offshore management at a business plan presentation) and it will never happen again. As someone who enjoys and usually feels confident while publicly speaking, I was foolish enough to rely only on my wit and improvisational skills on that occasion. Choking in front of a business crowd is scarring – a quick note of key points to stick to is often all you need.
13: “Giving feedback” training is worth it
I only once gave unmoderated, raw and verbatim feedback (provided from other employees) to someone. It was very early in my leadership career and I thought I was doing them a favour by being transparent. They were distraught to the extent eliciting their side was impossible and ultimately I killed their confidence. It turned out the feedback was inaccurate. Be kind and balanced in feedback sessions and if training is available, it’s well worth it. #14 follows on from this…
14: Deal only in facts when conflict arises
Regardless of seemingly sound evidence provided, or emotional accounts given by an accuser, be careful to remain balanced and factual when requested to assist with workplace conflict. Your employees are generally good people, trying to do the right thing – after all you probably hired them. There are always two sides to a story and once or twice early on I found myself being swayed by the first side of an argument thus making my discussion with the second party have a veneer of accusation. Each time I was wrong and ended up with a very upset team member and created a potential HR risk. I have now become very tenacious about carefully gathering all facts and making judgements based on this, usually to discover the conflict is easily solvable and quickly forgotten.
15: Become excellent at the hiring process
As someone in a leadership position within the recruitment industry, I know a little bit about the hiring process – or like to think so at least! In keeping with that, here are four hiring secrets that I’ve learned in my 15 years of hiring.
- Having a gut feel about a candidate is OK, but take the time to plan some structured behavioural questions when interviewing potential new staff. I am a huge fan of this as it moves the interview into more of a two-way dialogue, and you really get to learn about the person.
- Do reference checks after the psyche testing. You want to know how those psychometric nuances play out in real life, plus you will likely get a more engaged and “real” account from the referee if you reference test results.
- Google all potential hires – you could dodge a bullet.
- If a new hire has joined you because one of your employment value propositions is important to them (e.g. “coaching and mentoring availability” or “flexibility”) then talk to them about this on day 1, end of week 2, end of month 1 and monthly thereon. I have observed a lack of follow-through on these opportunities and initiatives for employees as the number 1 reason for premature resignations.
16: Be Grateful
A long-term leadership and people management position can be exhausting and frustrating. However, if you have the respect of your team, you are someone people naturally come to for help/advice, and on the whole things are going well with the business, organisation or team you lead, you are in a privileged and enviable position that many people aspire to. Be thankful and enjoy!