How lessons from the frontline can be applied to everyday business leadership
What makes for an effective leader? This is a question that is asked again and again, across the spectrum of society and business. Every day we see cases where leadership is being negatively questioned (think Cricket Australia, Federal LNP deputies and the NRL domestic violence cases) yet at a time when it is becoming more important than ever as businesses strive to recruit the best in an era of rapid industrial advancements. Industry reports continually paint a grim picture of leadership in business, and as trusted client advisers it is something we should not be afraid to question when we engage with our clients.
Whilst it is a topic that can be debated from many different angles and against numerous scenarios, it is a subject that I have become passionate about over the course of my career and now provide as a service offering to our clients through Battlefield to Boardroom – Traits of Leadership talks.
I do not claim to be an expert on leadership. Instead I have been fortunate enough in my career as a British Army Officer to have lead teams in extreme and high-risk environments and, through these experiences, have learned the hard way what good and bad leadership looks like [having sat on both ends of the scale]. These lessons were learned through failure and success in multiple situations that included:
- Being challenged on why someone had not been promoted but others were;
- Having to terminate an employee’s career;
- Deploying a team of 150 troops into a war zone when our country was against it;
- Explaining to a wife and a daughter why their parent / partner would not be coming home;
- Convincing a team member to continue clearing mines despite having almost blown off their hand;
- Supporting a team who had witnessed the death of a friend and then had to carry their body back;
- Consoling a young employee who had attempted suicide because he had seen more horror in a six month period than the average person witnesses in a life time.
I learnt quickly that leadership can be very lonely, that it can be bloody hard work, that the right decision is not often the most popular one, but most importantly that these challenges do not excuse bad behaviour. Leadership is a privilege not a right and just because a role may hold seniority over others, it does not mean it will naturally command respect and admiration. That, must be earned. This is something I often see leaders forget as the pressures of the bottom line, demands of the client or personal issues begin to pile up.
Transitioning from the military into a corporate environment, there were many things that required adjusting in my outlook. The one thing that remained constant however, was the importance of effective leaders within an organisation. Whether work involves client facing deliverables, hitting deadlines, internal recruitment, training and career management, there is always a human element that requires good leadership to support and respect the people who work in the business.
Reflecting on these experiences, I have developed eight traits of leadership that I believe define how effective someone is when they hold a position of responsibility. Leaders are the critical component to any business as they set the tone from the top and are responsible for the wellbeing and motivation of the people who make the business successful. The following list provides some guidance that should be reflected on during your daily lives, interacting with colleagues and clients alike. Regardless of whether those interactions are with a team of one or one thousand.
- Communication – Knowing when to listen and knowing when to speak is critical to good leadership. If you cannot identify what a team’s problems are it is probably because you do not give them a chance to tell you.
- Integrity / Trust – Honesty, sincerity, reliability – breeds trust and loyalty. It is very hard to build trust but exceptionally easy to lose. How can you work for a leader you cannot trust?
- Awareness– There is a difference between management and employees, bosses and workers. Leaders understand the nature of this difference and accept it; it informs their image, their actions, and their communication.
- Empathy – Good leaders should praise in public and address problems in private whilst displaying genuine concern. Paying lip service to matters that are important to others risks breeding contempt and mistrust.
- Accountability– Take responsibility for everyone’s performance, including your own. When others are failing it is the leader who is accountable for these failures, having not supported or addressed the problem as it arose.
- Confidence/ Courage – Confidence is contagious and will lead to a team ethos that can drive innovation, transformation and a more effective output. A leader who has the courage to stand up for what is right will gain the trust and empathy of their team
- Optimism– Knowing what to say to inspire and reassure. Life will not always be fantastic, but a leader must maintain an optimistic outlook or risk losing the morale of the whole team, allowing dissent and mistrust to encroach.
- Inspiration– Leaders should be the inspiration for staff to want to push themselves and further their own careers. Leaders are entrusted with an organisation’s greatest resource–its people–and when they are leading effectively, will inspire the team to follow them through any challenge the business may face.
Failure to address poor leadership will result in the departure of good staff and can cause enormous organisational damage. How can you expect to recruit or maintain future talent if the people you charge with leading them are incapable of inspiring innovation, cannot communicate effectively, understand where problems are occurring, or are so mistrusted that no one will work for them? To the reverse however, imagine how great an organisation can be when its leaders are trusted by their teams, have the courage and confidence to support and drive their thought provokers, and are aware of the difficulties that staff may be facing which are impacting their performance.
If you want to learn more on how we can help your clients develop their leadership team, please reach out to your local performance consulting representative.