If you Google how to improve your leadership skills, you’re provided with some 150 million results. So, if there is that much advice, how come we are not masters of the art, and why is it that we get it wrong so many times?
We have role models. We have authentic leaders, we have transformational leaders, we have charismatic leaders, we have transactional leaders, and even in Blackswan we have true leaders programmes.
I ask myself regularly as someone who teaches the art of leadership, and practices the art in my own business, can leadership be truly taught? Are there a set of skills/knowledge that once you grasp it means you can lead? My answer is that we are always looking for fast solutions that change little and cost a lot.
Ask yourself a question: In the history of your business how much has been spent on leadership training? I will confidently predict that you are no better led today after this significant investment than you were before. Is this because leadership cannot be taught, or leadership is being taught in the wrong way? Perhaps we are heaping skills and knowledge, without the behaviour change and the recognition of fatal flaws, onto people who are incapable of absorbing the information or deciphering the data or implementing any actions that have sustainability?
The topic of leadership has constantly captivated the business world and the HR community at large. This is exacerbated by the recent crises in the trust leadership and experiences of widespread and continuous failures of leadership in business, in politics, education, and other institutions of modern society.
“Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships” ― Stephen R. Covey
My observations lead me to ask can we trust our leaders and did we ever trust them? Perhaps a much more important question is do our leaders trust us and will they ever? Trust is a vital ingredient in any relationship and without offering trust we cannot expect trust in return. Trust is also a process, not an event; to assume trust or just say ‘trust me’ straightaway engenders a lack of trust.
Leadership programmes are not just confined to business, but many of the same theories are trotted out. Communication is not a skill, it is a desire – if we want people to know what’s going on, we’ll find a way to tell them.
But in my view, alongside these programmes we need to embed a sense of urgency, a sense of toughness, a true set of values and beliefs together with the personal wisdom on how to apply them appropriately. These are tough times and we need leaders with passion, conviction, and a willingness to take charge and lead us to a better and more engaged place.
I often use the example that leaders lead bullet-filled battle charges without looking back to see if the troops are following. If a leader has to confirm loyalty, then they are already in trouble.
The mantra that I have learnt from my many mistakes as a leader and from years of researching and teaching leaders, is that leaders need to understand the difference between strategic/tactical, regulation/enforcement, trust/engagement, toughness/enablement, charisma/capability and decisiveness/execution.
Leadership is full of paradoxes. A leader who can engage whilst driving hard, achieve loyalty whilst being tough, be inspirational without being the centre of attention, and be transparent whilst being in control, needs to consider these and the following types of questions.
How can we give direction without giving directives?
How can we lead by serving?
How can we maintain authority without having control?
How can we set direction when we don’t know the future?
How can we oppose change by accepting it?
How can we accept change by opposing it?
How can a large organisation be small?
How can a small one be large?
How can we be both a system and many independent parts?
The role in leadership coaching is clear. We can share wisdom, experience, and context. Leadership is a balancing act that requires communicating a compelling vision, convincing others to buy into that vision, and marshalling resources and talent to make it happen.
In the end our teams will support only those undertakings which they feel instinctively to be just, and leaders who are reliable, capable, trustworthy and authentic. We also need leaders who are prepared to lead.
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more and become more, you are a leader" ― John Quincy Adams
There are situations when we have to lead, have to make the difficult decisions, and begin to direct the action and orchestrate the response. These times are not as unprecedented as we call them; we have been through difficulties like these in the past.
During periods of turbulence, human beings naturally focus on the moment. It’s part of the fight or flight instinct. It is not enough to be able to manage uncertainty, we have to be able to manage through uncertainty, towards a more certain future, to lead the charge. The perennial debate around whether we need an autocratic or democratic style of leadership is irrelevant; it is about what is needed at the time.
We as individuals are hardwired to detect and respond to adversity. The danger is that too many leaders use tough times as an excuse to lock in on today’s misery, foregoing discussion and deliberations about the future. The greater danger is that our leaders know no other route. Simply put, these leaders’ time horizons are about as short-term as you can get, and their decisions reflect this immediacy and urgency.
The future doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen with conviction, energy and determination.
We can all spot the leaders – they’re the ones with people following them.
What we now need is a whole new way to help leaders meet the business horizon head on programmes that prepare the mental toughness to meet the challenges and the vision and operating style that engages and motivates the organisation in a trusting and authentic way. We now need leaders who are driven to lead, to take control and step forward, and to guide organisations through these unchartered and choppy waters. The challenge is that many of our models and most of our experiences are built upon traditional methodologies for a world that no longer exists, and so we drive forward using the rear view mirror to guide us.
Too often we love our programmes so much we do them again and again to the same people with slight variations. So we say that this manager has 15 years’ experience. No, he doesn’t, he has one year’s experience, 15 times over. And he will continue to have that same year’s experience over and over again – Groundhog Day Management.
The ‘next practice’ leadership programmes need to deliver results that create a leadership ethos and capability that has toughness, entrepreneurship, chaos management, innovation and trust at its core.
We can see the results, so let’s make sure we learn the lessons.
For more information on what we can offer you, contact us at Blackswan on +44 (0)845 603 2815 or email email@example.com on +44 (0)845 603 2815
Celebrating women in business this International Women’s Day