Let’s dismiss any silly notions about leadership having anything to do with authority over other people. I could list half a dozen leadership roles like Project Managers, Product Managers, Business Analysts who are all leaders often without any direct reporting lines. I’m going to instead, suggest the following definition;
Leaders are the people in an organisations that are tasked with guiding and shaping its success or failures.
1. Leaders are people in an organisation
That’s right. They’re not Geniuses. They’re not different. They’re also not just people who “don’t seem to work as hard as everyone else” as is a common perception. They are people just like you and me.
2. They are tasked with guiding and shaping its success or failures
So who in your business do you think has an impact on whether your team, project, product, department or business is a success? Is it just your manager? Do you contribute as well? I’m guessing you do.
That’s right, here it is… you knew it was coming… we’re ALL leaders! Now that we’ve established that, let’s ask ourselves how well are we doing? And could we or should we be doing better?
Be a Coach
In order to get the best out of people, we must empower them to make decisions. For them to be the most effective, we need them to know what we know, and we need to arm them with the knowledge and understanding to do their role as best they can.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve found becoming a leader. Being a subject matter expert is what had made me useful to people, and when people asked me a question, I felt obliged to give them an answer.
However, by instead taking the time to coach them, I’m able to ensure they won’t have to ask that question again. The best technique I’ve found to achieve this is to answer a question with a question (Yes, I know that sounds incredibly annoying — but I promise, it works).
When I get asked, “what should we do?” I’ll respond, “Tell me what you think the best course of action is?”
If I feel they need some guidance to the right answer, I’ll suggest it in the form of a question. “Do you think approach A would achieve Goal B?”
The benefit of this is that you are now ensuring the right thinking is being done, and the right decision is being made… without having to do it yourself.
As you coach the people around you, they will become more confident and proficient in what they do.
Be a Mentor
Sometimes however, you just can’t coach your way to the best outcome –no matter how you phrase the question; they simply don’t know what you know.
If you are blessed with experience or knowledge that can lead to a better result, it is your responsibility to share. Being a mentor is exactly this, it is allowing others to benefit from your knowledge and experience so they can avoid making the same mistakes you would have made.
A great example here is to share an anecdote of how you once were in a similar position, how you dealt with it & what you learnt.
Be a Facilitator
There’s a common misconception that people who lead must be the most knowledgeable people in the room, and this is simply not the case. It is a skill though, to be able to get the right people in a room and coordinate a discussion or learning session.
As a Product manager, I work with a team of people who are extremely intelligent and experts in their field. I don’t have to have all the answers, all I need to do is get them in a room, present a problem and guide them in the right direction — they will do the rest of the work, and between them come up with the better outcome.
Learning to facilitate is a key leadership quality, and not knowing an answer should never hold you back. All you need to do is think, who would have this answer, and how can I get that person involved.
Be a Motivator
Lastly, but by no means least… is ones ability to motivate a team. Anyone in the team can do this, and I’m not talking about incentives, bonuses or bringing sugary treats into the office (though they all help).
As leaders, we need to understand that we are employed for a reason & we need to achieve certain milestones. In pursuit of those goals, we need to make sure that everyone in the team is doing what needs to be done to achieve this.
So how do you motivate people? Well, it depends… I think you need to have a few weapons in your arsenal! Sometimes you simply need to set an expectation — E.g. hey guys, do you think we can complete tasks A to D this week? Yea? OK let’s push to get that done and celebrate on Friday with a beer after work!
Sometimes it’s about simply recognising an issue and asking people if they’re ok — an environment where people care for each other fosters trust and commitment. A team is greater than the sum of its parts… but to be an effective team, you have to look after your team.
Another great way to get people more involved and take on some ownership is to empower people by delegating responsibility; they become personally invested as their reputation is on the line.
Now I’m not saying we should expect people to work themselves to death and burn themselves out. But sometimes we need to keep ourselves on track, and this is one of the roles of a leader. Understand your team, work with them, and motivate them to prosper.
While there are certainly roles in an organisation that are dedicated to leadership, the success of an organisation lies with the actions and behaviours of its employees. Using these attributes, we can all be leaders and we can all effect positive change. I’d love hear back from anyone with similar or other views!
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