One of my favourite leadership thinkers at the minute is Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why and Leaders East Last both of which you should read if you haven’t done so already.
The other week, I saw a link on Twitter to one of his videos which I watched and was reminded that ‘the best leaders don’t consider themselves to be experts; leadership is a skill which can be learned’.
This resonated with me because it is exactly the reason I am taking part in an initiative called ‘Leadership Pods’, a development programme developed by Dafydd Thomas at Circularis for people who want to be great leaders.
Being part of this encourages me to consider how I can further develop my leadership practice and allows me space to reflect on where I am now and where I would like to be in the future. The programme also allows participants to share and learn from others who may have similar challenges or experiences.
As Sinek sets out, it is important as a leader to keep learning and commit to continuous improvement throughout your leadership journey. It’s about supporting people and making a difference so why wouldn’t you want to work towards perfecting your craft which of course we all know does not have a final destination.
It’s like the best athlete working on their discipline; they can break new ground and set world records for their sport but there are always others who are watching them, learning from them and will ultimately take their place and set their own records.
Sinek goes so far as to say in his video: ‘any leader that considers themselves an expert… don’t trust them…. run in the other direction’. You should definitely be suspicious of a leader who is convinced that they are always right and can’t see a reason to listen to the views or ideas of others.
In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Sinek promotes the importance within good leadership of prioritising the needs of others sometimes even putting these needs ahead of their own. My approach certainly is to focus on supporting those in my teams, ensuring I take steps to understand their needs and considering how I can adapt my style to get the best out of them.
For example, I consider who they are and how they like to be managed. Some people, particularly millennials, want to have autonomy; they want to be clear about what is expected of them and be given the freedom to do their best work which might involve trying out new ideas or generating new opportunities. They expect to be able to get fully involved and don’t want to be told what to do.
Generation X and the baby boomers might prefer more specific management and direction with greater clarity around what is expected of them and could even look for detailed instruction. Of course people don’t always fit nicely into a box and so the only way you can understand what they need is to ask them. I try to ask my direct reports on a regular basis if they are happy with the way they are being managed, recognising that my preferred style doesn’t work for everyone. In circumstances where my approach is causing problems for them, I do my best to change it because ultimately, I want them to perform as well as they can and I don’t want to be the person that holds them back.
Understanding their long terms goals is also valuable because I recognise that they might not spend their whole career with one organisation and instead may wish to develop and move on to other opportunities. In taking time to discuss this, I can ensure they are developing the necessary skills and experience to get them where they need to go. Even if they do want to stay with us, I want that to be because they feel like they are able to develop and are invested in, whether that’s through funding for formal training or time to develop their specific interests or skills.
It’s important to recognise that they are a good measure of my own performance as a leader and I might ask them how they enjoy working with me and listen carefully to their feedback. Also important is to recognise that they can be giving feedback through their silence or avoidance so I try to make a special effort to notice what they are not saying through body language or passing comments.
Sinek says: “We call them leader not because they are in charge but because they are willing to run head first into the unknown or dangerous.”
It’s not about status or rank, leadership is a skills that needs to be developed and perfected over time. If you aspire to be a great leader then you might want to sign up for a Leadership Pod yourself and find out how you can unleash the power not only within yourself but in those you work with across your organisation.
“Like a parent, you are not an expert parent but you keep practicing and practicing and hopefully, you’ll get it right someday.” (Simon Sinek)
Do you consider yourself to be a great leader? Have any thoughts or tips to share? Let us know what you think by posting in the comments below.