Leadership isn’t about the leader, it’s about the ship

(This is the first in several posts about authentic leadership)

How can I be an authentic leader?

This is probably the question I get asked more than any other on leadership development programmes.

How can I adopt all these leadership behaviours you’re telling me about, act motivated when I feel deflated, pretend to support positions and decisions I don’t agree with, and at the same time call myself an “authentic” leader?

The thing is, it’s the wrong question to ask because “authenticity” isn’t the point.

Leaders who worry about being “authentic” are putting themselves in the centre and forgetting that leadership isn’t about them: leadership is about influencing and inspiring other people (other people who are our social equals and who shouldn’t have to put up with our crap) to do something.

The day you become a leader, it becomes about them

Jack Welch

Or to put it in a potentially brilliant (or potentially confusing) way: leadership isn’t about the leader, it’s about the ship.

So “authentic” is only good if it helps us influence and inspire others, it’s not necessarily good in itself.

In Venn diagram form:

This means that Person A is a poor leader despite being authentic.

They are unprofessional, quite possibly self-indulgent, and as they mistakenly seem to think we have to put with aspects of their “authentic self” which are unhelpful to leadership.

They are probably mistakenly thinking they are the star of the show and that leadership is all about them.

This approach might have some success when leading a cult, especially when backed up with a high level of competence (Steve Jobs maybe?), but it’s at best clumsy and exclusive (Donald Trump maybe?), most usually it’s ineffective and disrespectful.

Continue reading “Leadership isn’t about the leader, it’s about the ship”

Management essentials: three ways for managers to build trust

If you want to succeed as a manager, you need to build relationships of trust with your team.

If they don’t trust you, nothing else matters: nothing you do will land right, the extra-mile won’t be run, the box won’t get thought outside of, no one will be saluting what you run up the flagpole … in short, creativity and motivation will drag sluggishly along the floor no matter how much cake you bring in on a Friday.

In fact, if our untrustworthy manager brought in cake on a Friday, what would you think?

You’d probably assume some sneaky ulterior motive, that they were trying to ingratiate themselves or bribe you with superficial treats … although obviously you’d still eat the cake, just to be polite.

If you’ve ever had a manager you didn’t trust, you won’t need much persuading on this point.

Saying you need trust in the team will seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious – and I’d agree with you, so imagine my surprise when someone once interrupted me to say:

We don’t have the luxury of building trusting relationships, we need people to get on with it and deliver

Someone on a management training course once (yes, seriously)

Hands up who wants to work for this person?

Thought not.

So, I am disappointed I need to do this, but I will start with three reasons why building trust is worthwhile, before going on to share three things you need to do to build trust in your teams.

Continue reading “Management essentials: three ways for managers to build trust”

Three ways to learn from experience (or how to deal with idiots)

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you
If you’re determined to learn, no one can stop you

Zig Ziglar

I am assuming if you’re reading this, you like Ziglar’s quote above, and are already convinced of two things:

  • That being good at learning is an important skill; and
  • That you can learn new stuff, despite however many years you may have accumulated

On the first point, in our fast-changing world of immense complexity, the ability to capture the right learning from our experience is more and more important – and we don’t just learn from experience automatically; it’s a skill.

The difference between someone with ten years experience and someone who has one year’s experience ten times, is that the first person learnt from that experience.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn

Alvin Toffler

On the second point, it used to be thought that our abilities and talents were static after the age of about seven: this is the fixed mindset.

There is some truth to this, it gets harder to learn as you get older because the neural pathways are hewn more and more clearly into the grey matter, but research has shown that not only are our brains more plastic than previously thought, but that learning new stuff makes our brains even less fixed and more able to learn (the growth mindset)!

This means not only can we learn new tricks, but learning new tricks stops our brains from growing old!

The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks

John Rooney

I have written about the importance of a growth mindset here.

To build on those assumptions, I want to share three tools I find useful for being a better experiential learner.

Continue reading “Three ways to learn from experience (or how to deal with idiots)”

The soon-to-be-famous Four Cornerstones model of management

Management comes with power, and with power comes responsibility.

Leaders may create the organisational climate, but managers make the weather. This is why it is the manager who is most often cited as the biggest single factor in employee satisfaction and engagement, and the biggest reason people leave their jobs.

A lot of this is due to a poor relationship and a lack of recognition for the effort employees make and the outcomes they achieve. Too few managers spend time building that relationship or taking sufficient interest to understand what their team is doing.

There are good reasons for this.

A lot of managers are expected to do a “day job” on which they are measured, then do some management too, as if it were a minor little add-on extra like being the Fire Warden or agreeing to be on the rota to empty the dishwasher on a weekly basis.

It isn’t.

Management is a serious responsibility that takes time, and if you’re unwilling or unable to invest that time, then please don’t be a manager.

The impact you can have if you don’t take it seriously is enormous. Not just on the organisation in terms of the lost opportunities from the mediocre performances of most of the people you manage, but on the individuals themselves in terms of their happiness, wellbeing and career opportunities.

The starting place is always respect.

This isn’t an American TV drama where the boss gets to shout at the interns, this is real life where managers must treat the people they manage with exactly the same level of respect as they treat everyone else.

This isn’t a teacher-pupil relationship, or a parent-child relationship, it’s a professional relationship between adults.

The manager has more responsibility, and gets to make decisions and provide feedback – there is an undeniable power dynamic in play – but managers don’t get their blood replaced with the blue royal sort, nor get given a crown when they are handed the keys to management, and treating their team with anything other than respect is unacceptable.

Continue reading “The soon-to-be-famous Four Cornerstones model of management”

Management and leadership are two different things, not two different people.

Management and leadership are two different things, but that doesn’t mean that managers and leaders are two different people.

This chasm-like division between the fabulous leader whose job is to provide inspiration and direction, and the workmanlike manager who has to get into the weeds and deliver on the detail, is a load of nonsense.

Worse, it’s harmful.

I’ve been a manager for years, and I’ve only succeeded when I was also a good leader. When I’ve been a leader, I only got that right when I didn’t abdicate my responsibility as a manager.

My definition of leadership

Influencing, inspiring and empowering people to do something

My definition of management

Making stuff happen to the agreed quality standards on time and within budget

(Another definition of management is “an act of creating and maintaining such a business environment wherein the members of the organization can work together, and achieve business objectives efficiently and effectively” from Business Jargons – it’s OK, but I find it less clear)

Leadership and management: different, but also complementary.

MgmtLdrs

Continue reading “Management and leadership are two different things, not two different people.”