In my last blog, My Leadership Learnings, I discussed the idea that while leadership comes naturally for some, it can also be learned. Whichever camp you sit in or even if you sit in both, I’ve put together some of my leadership techniques that have helped me build my leadership career.
Like many people in my positon I too have had to learn and work at every aspect of what it takes and what it ultimately means to be a leader. Leadership is certainly not a straight forward follow a formula process and it most definitely doesn’t happen instantly. There are times when you feel “yes” its going okay and then there are bumps in the road where you face failure, disappointment and leadership fatigue head on. In these challenging times, you have to critique yourself, dig deep and remain positive, be honest and above all always look for ways that you can self-audit in order to improve, and better yourself – this is what great leaders do.
It Takes Time
Being a leader is an ongoing process and you must be committed long-term. If you have a passion and drive for what you do, and you remain humble and hold yourself accountable to being authentic, then you’re a few steps closer to being the best leader that you can be. Honest self-assessment can help you uncover your skills and true potential, so that you have a firm grasp of your own strengths and weaknesses.
The Basic Ingredients of Leadership
Over the years, I’ve created my own leadership recipe for success. This is something that I’ve whipped up, and experimented with on an ongoing basis. Some has come about from learning the tough lessons; some has been learnt from great mentors and leaders I have worked with and some has been learnt from bad leaders I have worked with. Ultimately, the basic ingredients of leadership are your core attributes, skills and competencies and your values. These can include self-management, problem solving, remaining mentally agile and working through the challenges with sheer determination, resilience and above all integrity. Overall, how you react and handle real life situations can give you an insight into what type of leader you really are.
There is one thing that all leaders should excel at; self-management. You can’t be a good leader if you don’t know how to manage your personal and professional life. The hard work that you do can come crumbling down if you neglect either one. An imbalance will cause problems which will impact your ability to lead others and you will become ineffective and ultimately fail as a leader.
Yes, there will be many mistakes along the way. However, one cannot achieve success without overcoming failures. How you navigate through challenges says a lot about your leadership style. If you use failures as an opportunity to learn from you will build a great suite of competencies in handling challenges. Furthermore, blaming others and being negative in difficult times is not what a good leader is about. Consider the leaders or role models that got you to where you are today. Do they have a balance? How do they handle pressure and obstacles? Studying past leaders can help you reflect on how you do things. Your leadership style doesn’t have to be the same as anyone else, and it shouldn’t be. Looking up to others and putting others first is a useful mantra for any leader, but don’t forget about yourself either.
Obtain the Right Mindset
As a leader you may often hear that you need to “think outside of the box” or that you must have a certain mind-set. But what does that actually mean? Let me break it down. A strong leader stays positive even when things go wrong.
A good leader is humble and will never be focused on putting themselves above everyone else in the team or blow their own trumpet about being in charge. A true leader is more concerned about the success of their people, and their organisation.
Without a clear mind or strength of character how can you make the best decision for your organisation, business, your people? For example, if a workplace conflict arises between two employees, avoiding bias and maintaining emotional objectivity so that you can see both sides of the issue is crucial to not taking sides when handling the matter.
You don’t have to be an expert on understanding people’s behaviours to be a great leader, but it can prove to be useful; especially in those situations where there is conflict. Look at the subtle and not so subtle cues, what are you not being told and why would you not be told? Having a rational problem solving approach is beneficial and shows that you have the ability to tackle obstacles and with confidence.
Create Your Own Leadership Program
Being in a leadership role it’s important to get yourself organised mentally in what you do. Daily, weekly, monthly, annd annually. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. I’ve achieved my planning through setting myself small milestones each day in the form of a checklist or plan, which I refer to as my personalised leadership recipe. It’s what I do in a day and how I best use my skills. Usually I base this around a day-to-day, weekly or monthly schedule. I also look at my role or roles I am performing and create a list of the key and most important aspects of what it takes to be a good leader in these roles and use this as a “self-evaluation” form where I can check in on myself to see how I am tracking and whether I need to work on certain areas, and above all what I can do to better to ensure I am doing what it takes to lead.
As cliché as it may sound, getting up early and starting your day before everyone else is key to leadership and sets you up for the day ahead. I call my morning schedule my “15-minute success formula." First thing in the morning I take 15 minutes to think about my day and the people I will be working with. Affirm my leadership objectives and responsibilities and who and what I am accountable for that day.
The next 15 minutes is about being up to speed. Although many people might think that being a leader just means reading a few leadership books every once in a while, dedicating some time to a few authors that you think are influential can be very useful. Take these 15 minutes each morning to read a leadership or self-development piece, or a book that you find inspiring and motivational. Perhaps you can even share these articles or books with your team, as people respect leaders that are not afraid to keep learning and sharing new things. Or watch and digest news and other topical content.
The next 15 minutes I take the time to appreciate everything that I have and the people I value in my life. Gratitude.
If you can squeeze time in for 30 minutes exercise in your morning to get your blood pumping, then definitely do so.
Although it's good to have a routine during your work day, there is one rule that I never break: the weekend is my family time and my work does not invade this space. Setting aside a few days for my family is crucial, especially when my children were growing up. I've always been very territorial about my weekends being my family and fun time, where we spend time together and take those special days to do fun things and family activities together.
I have learnt to quiz myself. These are some of the questions that help me reflect.
1. Do I truly listen?
2. Do I set clear expectations?
3. Do I hold people accountable to expectations I have set?
4. Do I ensure that a decision is urgent or requires a stop and think it through/overnight approach?
5. Do I walk the talk or do I just talk and not follow through or not lead by example?
6. Am I mindful of my audience my key stakeholders that I am accountable for?
7. Am I calm but action oriented?
8. Do I take the "drama" out of a situation or do I allow people to drag me into their drama and their agenda? Do I remain objective?
These are some of my personal techniques and tips. Once you master the basic leadership ingredients, you have the freedom to explore, experiment and find new ways of doing things for yourself and for your team. The more practice you can get in, the more exciting your journey can become. As a leader when you discover the key leadership qualities in yourself, you can then support and encourage others to do the same. Self-leadership!