Leading the right way

Leading the right way

You may land a plum role in a reputed organization one day but if your leadership skills are not up to the mark, sooner or later, you may have to kiss goodbye to that job. Develop your Leadership Skills by John Adair tells you how to tap into those often missing leadership skills. Edited excerpts:

Much of my professional life has been spent in trying to persuade organizations of all sizes to grow their own leaders. In that work, as I once heard a US bishop say, I have had enough success to prevent me from despair and enough failure to keep me humble. But from experience and observation I have to tell you that most good leaders emerge and grow in spite of their organizations rather than because of them. Moreover, you will most probably work for five or six organizations in your career, so none of them will be quite as committed to your long time development as you are. How then do you develop yourself as a leader?

There is no infallible system or set of systems, I am afraid. You are a unique person, with a unique path of leadership in front of you. Nobody can teach you the way: You have to find it for yourself. If it was an easy path, a lot more people in leadership roles or positions would be showing the skill or leadership as outlined in these pages than is actually the case.

All I can do is share with you some practical suggestions and reflections that you may find useful. I hope that you will find them encouraging in nature, because on a journey we all need inspiration (even to write books!). As the eighteenth century poet John Collier truly said, “Not geniuses but average men and women require profound stimulation, incentive towards creative effort and the nature of great hopes."

Be prepared

The door into leadership has “confidence" written upon it. You have to want to be a leader. It begins with a willingness to take charge. If you hate the idea of taking responsibility, then leadership is not for you. Remain an individual contributor. “You cannot put into yourself what God has not put there," as a Hungarian proverb says.

Given you fulfil the basic requirement of a willingness to accept responsibility, never write yourself off as a potential leader. It is a question of getting yourself into the right field and then waiting for the right situation. But remember Louis Pasteur’s famous remark that “fortune favours the prepared mind".

The more prepared you are, the more confident you become. Remember as a leader or leader-to-be always to look confident, even when you may not be feeling it inside. People will tend to take you at face value.

Be proactive

Organizations do have a vested interest in your development as a leader, because they need leaders. Share with them your hopes, intentions and ambitions. You should be seeking above all opportunities to lead, be it leadership of a team or a project group. Experience is a compost heap of successes and failures. Make compost! Without it you can hardly grow as a leader.

Apart from promotion to a leadership role, organizations may well offer you—perhaps in response to a request from yourself—some leadership training. Seize these opportunities with both hands. You will be able to practise your skills and receive useful feedback. You should, of course, remain constructively critical, for not everything you hear on leadership courses or read in books is both true and practicable. But it is a key opportunity for stimulation and learning. Take any such offers.

Be reflective

Most leaders are action-centred and fairly well immersed in their work, not least because they tend to love it. You do need to, of course, to be able to withdraw from time to time and take a “helicopter view" of what is going on. These times of reflection should include your own role performance as a leader. List the things that are going well and identify some specific areas for self-improvement. This process is a natural one in any aspect of our lives—as husbands, wives or partners, for example—but you should upgrade it into self-learning method. It will yield you a mental list of action points aimed at improving your skills and knowledge as a leader. Using informal or un-structured feedback is an especially important self-development tool. People are rather like mirrors or “social reflectors": they beam back to us how we are coming across.

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