There is no commonly agreed definition for leadership, but a suggested one is: the capacity to establish direction, to influence and align others towards a common goal, to motivate and commit others to action, and to encourage them to feel responsible for and committed to their contribution to the organisation. Good leadership is vital for any organisation, but leadership is not just about having a formal position, it is about inspiring and enabling others to perform well and achieve objectives. Leadership is not just about status and authority; it is more about a mindset that thinks proactively and takes responsibility. Employees at all levels can play an active part in leading themselves and their organisations. Think back over your experience of organisational life and you may well recall people who have provided a lead for others, despite having little formal authority.
Managers in the middle of an organisation face challenges in exercising leadership. They must find the right balance between leading and being led and between being a leader and a follower. They may face conflicting pressures from those they manage and those in more senior positions. In certain circumstances, they may be leading a cross-functional team with members from different parts of the organisation or a virtual team with members based in different locations.
It has been said that you will never lead anyone unless you first lead yourself. So, it’s important for anyone who wants to be seen as a leader to start by reflecting on their abilities and to work at developing the skills they need to handle workplace relationships and to influence others. This may involve personal development activities and/or participation in organizational leadership development programs, where these are available.
This checklist offers some practical guidance for managers, focusing on fundamental leadership skills. Leaders are seen as those who:
· Make followers feel well-supported, and can be trusted and relied upon by team members.
· Have a clear vision for the future and can lead the way through change.
· Show commitment to, and generate enthusiasm for the organisation.
· Are honest and open, and spend time talking and listening to their people.
· Give employees the room and the confidence to get their job done.
1- Think about the difference between management and leadership
There is an ongoing debate about the nature of management and leadership and the difference between them. While some schools of thought emphasize the distinctions between them, other thinkers such as Henry Mintzberg suggest that in practice it is difficult to say when a person is ‘managing’ and when they are ‘leading. A common approach to the difference is that:
Management is about the day-to-day running of a function, with a focus on task achievement, project implementation, and processes for getting the job done.
Leadership is about creating a sense of vision, common purpose, and strategic direction, with a focus on inspiring people and gaining their commitment to the long-term effectiveness and success of the organisation.
Most would agree, however, that managers need leadership skills and abilities and that leadership can be an important part of their role. So, take the time to read around the subject and think out your approach to leadership.
2- Reflect on your current situation
Self-awareness is a vital starting point for the development of leadership capabilities. Having gained a clearer picture of what leadership is all about, now focus on yourself and your performance in your current role. Check your job description and consider the extent to which it expects or allows you to demonstrate leadership abilities. It may be that you have been promoted into a management role because of your technical skills and abilities, so that you now need to start focusing more on how you relate to, manage and lead your team.
3- Downplay Charisma
Charisma used to be seen as an important element in a leader’s success, but its value is not taken as seriously today. Relying on personal charisma can be counterproductive, as it tends to dominate people, stifle creativity, and create followers who depend on leaders for guidance and direction all the time, rather than use of their own judgment. Organizations need employees who are empowered to make their own decisions within the boundaries of their authority, rather than employees who blindly follow the rules. Rather than focusing on their own personality or charismatic appeal, leaders need to develop a range of skills that will enable others to perform to the best of their ability and get the job done effectively.
4- Develop your own leadership style
In the past, many leaders relied on autocratic ‘command and control’ styles. More recently there has been a much greater emphasis on more open and democratic styles such as transformational leadership, which seeks to engage and persuade rather than coerce employees. Situational leadership theory has emphasized the need to adapt your personal style to the circumstances. You will need to develop your own style depending on your own personality and values and on the cultural norms of your organisation. You also need to be prepared to adapt your style to the people you work with and the situations you encounter. For example, a more directional style may be required where people are failing to take responsibility, but employees who lack confidence may benefit from a coaching style of leadership.
Finally, the leader’s role is not to do all the work themselves, but to enable others to do it. But, empowerment is not just a matter of delegating responsibilities. You will need to provide the support and help employees need to complete work assignments and grow in confidence in their abilities. Take care to create the environment and circumstances in which employees can take real ownership of their work. Are you courageous enough to trust your people to do a good job, and to show faith in them? If the answer is ‘Yes’ and you can do this at the same times as providing vision and guidance as needed, you will gain your team’s confidence in you as a leader.