There’s a lot written about leadership and those who have taken up prominent leadership roles throughout the world. In many ways, working out what makes a good leader can be described as ‘horses for courses’. Mother Theresa could win hearts for her work among the poor in India while Margaret Thatcher, like her or loathe her, was able to steer the UK through times of turbulence and change. It is highly unlikely that their roles could have been reversed. Given their situation, they both proved to be effective, respected leaders.
What makes a leader? Why is it a topic that stocks the shelves of bookstores and the agendas of conferences internationally? In your every day life, do you need to develop as a leader or are leadership skills only required by politicians, high flying CEOs and saints? Quite often it is only the latter who do it well.
Fundamentally, we’re all put into positions of leadership. If you think you aren’t a leader, you need to read about, develop and apply leadership skills more than anyone else.
We’re all leaders; firstly of ourselves and our families then many of us lead as managers of employees. We lead our customers to make good decisions about their loan purchases that will positively impact on their lives.
Top leadership qualities
In his book Leadership Gold, US businessman John Maxwell looks at what great leadership can achieve with employees. He thinks there are five levels leaders need to progress through.
Maxwell says businesses beset with labour problems should look at the calibre of their leadership.
“The foundation of all leadership is relationships,” he says. “Leaders have to develop themselves first – you can’t develop others and have them follow you if you haven’t developed yourself.”
Maxwell identifies five levels of leadership and the higher the leader progresses the better he or she will be at attracting and even more critically, keeping good employees.
At level one your employees are not motivated and follow you because they have to – you’re the boss.
“Here your people give the minimum effort possible,” he explains. “They ask what’s the least I can do without getting the sack?”
At level two the leader creates relationships with his team and they follow because they want to. Leaders at this level learn to listen, but workers often stay because of their own reasons – they’re not welded onto the business.
“At level three your staff want to follow you because not only are they connected with you and your vision but they follow you because what you have done for the business,” he says. “Your results record is key.”
On the fourth level the leader is developing a team and you are reproducing ‘you’ in others, Maxwell insists.
“I live for level four,” he says. “Your business takes off and you are surprised at the compounding growth.
“At level three you are adding to your business, but at level four you are multiplying.”
Level five is all about respect. “People follow you because of who you are and what you represent,” he explains. “Your leadership is a culture not an event.
“You are not only better at work but a better person and employee-loyalty kicks in.”
Rise above the rest
This leadership expert says a leader has to know his employees and should be looking out for ‘eagles’, who could scale the levels of leadership. And while low flyers or ‘ducks’ have a role in business they should not be misplaced to fail, resulting in business growth problems or employee exits.
The wrong manager can do your staffing a lot of damage. “Never send a duck to eagle school,” he declares. “If you can’t fly, it does not matter how long the runway is.”
Maxwell believes Nabi Saleh, the founder of Gloria Jeans Coffees is a level five leader. The company now has more than 480 local franchisees and is in 39 countries.
In Leadership Gold he reminds us that a leader’s first responsibility is to define reality because a leader doesn’t run away from the truth. He pinpoints four keys to leading yourself and seeing reality:
1. Learn to follow and obey first.
2. Develop self-discipline
3. Practice patience and be a great listener. You don’t have to finish first but take as many as possible across the line with you.
4. Seek accountability – have an objective examiner bring the best out of you.
Thomas Watson, IBM’s former chair, once said: “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others, as what he does day to day to lead himself.”
Maxwell is a big fan of passion and showing it. He underlines this in his Law of Magnetism which says: “We attract who we are, not who we want.”
He argues passion is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.
Jack Welch once predicted: “The world will belong to passionate, driven leaders … people who not only have enormous amounts of energy, but who can energise those whom they lead.”
Focusing on strengths
Mark Albion in Making a Life, Making a Living looked at a US study of 1500 graduates over 20 years. Category A people or 83 per cent said they wanted to make money to enjoy life while B people (17 per cent) wanted to pursue true interests. After 20 years there were 101 millionaires in the group, but only one came from category A!
Passion gives people the will to win. The best advice you can give anyone is: “Find out what you are good at and keep doing it.”
Speaker and author Marcus Buckingham says search for your strength zone and encourage your team to do the same. He defines success as: “Knowing your purpose in life. Growing to your maximum potential and sowing the seeds that benefit others.”
The first question to ask is: what do I do well? Find your sweet spot. Management guru Peter Drucker says that the great mystery isn’t that people do things badly, but they occasionally do a few things well. Once you’ve determined your sweet spot, go where you are relatively strong. Jack Welch says: “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”
“Good leaders help others find their strength zones and empower them to work in them,” says Maxwell. A poll by the Gallup organisation of 1.7 million people found only 20 per cent that they used their strengths at work each day!
Drucker told us ages ago that organisations exist to make people’s strengths effective and weaknesses irrelevant.
Create a winning team
Healthy competition has to be balanced off with the team winning and everyone wins. Maxwell recommends:
1. Study and know your people on your team
2. Tell each person how they fit into the team
3. Tell everyone how each person fits.
Complete one another rather than competing with one another. Look for your employee’s value and show appreciation. Create a role model, which others follow. Trust is critical to get people to follow you, but mistrust builds if you are inconsistent, personal gain outranks shared gain, you withhold information, you play loose with the truth, or you are closed-minded.
The opposite of the above draws people to leaders. People quit incompetent leaders. People quit insecure leaders too! They want mentors, role models and people who can make then want to be better employees.
Here is Maxwell’s retention recipe:
1. Take responsibility for a relationship gone bad
2. Do exit interviews to see if you had a role
3. Put a high value on those who work with you
4. Ensure credibility and trustworthiness ranks even higher than competence!
5. Be positive and behave honourably
6. Keep learning to lead and teach your team.
Taking an objective view
Maturity and leadership come hand in hand. Immaturity keeps people on the sidelines where people are afraid to make decisions in case they’re wrong ones. Immature people protect themselves and care little for others. They fear making decisions in case flack comes back on them. You can see this happen in large companies particularly in middle management.
A leader knows how to bring the best out in others. Mother Theresa once said: “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”
A leader knows when they’re selling to others that their offer will genuinely bring benefit to their client or customer – it’s not a question of a quick one off sale. Leaders reap the benefits of doing good for others – and the rewards can be huge. Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell put it well: “Leadership is the art of achieving more than the science of management says is possible.”