Want to be a leader? Read on...
Whether you're an aspiring prime minister or a team coach, you need good advice. John van Maurik reports
Thursday 01 August 1996
It is much the same in other areas. Leaders rise and fall in the business world. Consequently, new bosses arrive, bringing with them novel approaches or philosophies. It is also an inescapable fact that the arrival of a new leader in your place of work usually has a more immediate, sometimes more painful, impact than a change in the more remote areas of government. At the same time, we are constantly being told that the breaking down of hierarchies in organisations is making leaders of us all.
And so we are both affected and preoccupied by leaders. We are interested in who they are, whether they represent our interests and most especially in what they do, since their actions affect us all.
Whether we are looking at the next Prime Minister or the unknown person who will become your boss next Monday, we must surely hope that these people are thinkers, listeners and open to advice. Indeed, advice will be thrust upon them. What is said to them will affect the way they formulate strategies as well as govern the tactics they use to implement them.
Some leaders historically have been bad listeners or have adopted a "shoot the messenger" policy that has meant the only person who was able to give them candid feedback or advice was the court jester, who was able to use his special status of "fool" as protection.
Consequently, I am doffing my jester's outfit, the cap and the bells, to bring some advice to leaders - new, old, or yet to be. These tips, which I formulated while writing a book about leaders, are non-specific and so hopefully will be relevant to you whether you are contemplating becoming the Prime Minister or going for the job of team coach.
1. Sort out which parts of your job involve leadership as distinct from management. What talents will you need to develop to be effective in both areas?
2. Recognise that leadership is about promoting change, so embrace change for the opportunities that will occur.
3. Go out of your way to promote learning in others. Do not think of yourself as a boss, but as a facilitator - someone who helps others to achieve.
4. Organisations must learn in order to adapt, so take every opportunity to be a learner yourself. Seek a mentor and seek to be a mentor.
5. Make time to think about your job as a leader. What demands does it place on you and how are you reacting to them?
6. Remember that leadership is about working with people and making choices as to how to approach them, how to motivate them. Are you making the right choices? In organisational terms, are you politically "well read" even if not politically motivated?
7. Increasingly you will be dealing with diversity of approach, gender, race and nationality. Welcome it, because therein lie the seeds of creativity.
8. Learn to think and act strategically. Balance the big picture with an understanding of its likely impact on you and your people.
9. Leaders can decline. Often the first sign is when the leader's vision of what is possible in the future fades. Do you still have a vision? How strong is it? And is it backed by a sound sense of purpose?
10. Remember the mnemonic WIST. The letters stand for Wisdom, Integrity, Sensitivity and Tenacity. It both includes and supports all the competencies and talents required for effective leadership.
Maybe these tips seem simple or obvious. I think not. They are all too often ignored; especially in the world of work, and the results of these omissions are all around us. Furthermore, it is often easier to state the truth in simple words than through more complex means. And isn't it strange the way we so often choose to ignore the obvious?
It would be easy to add many more pieces of advice based on such developable talents as being a good listener or valuing your team; but perhaps one final crucial tip would be this: - Never consider yourself superior to others, just because you are their leader.
It is a seductive trap. For example, there is the (hopefully untrue) story of a recent prime minister who went into a restaurant with the entire cabinet. "I'll take steak," declares the PM.
"And the vegetables?" inquires the waiter.
"Oh, they'll take the steak as well!" replies the PM with total conviction.
John van Maurik is a consultant at PA Sundridge Park. His second book "The Portable Leader" is due to be published by McGraw-Hill in late October.
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