A good leader is someone that brings clarity and a sense of calm. You have to be the bringer of calmness in order for people to think a little more clearly. Think of a good leader as a fan in a room full of smoke – they clear the room so that people can see what needs focusing on first. Saying that, I think some of my team would laugh and say that this analogy just means I blow hot air around the room!
Another crucial skill is to have the wisdom to know when someone else is right. There are lots of biz leaders out there that foolishly think just because they’ve grown the company, then of course they must know best. I wouldn’t go as far as to label themselves as dictators…But they do have a habit to (sometimes unconsciously and sometimes very much consciously) begin to start bossing people around.
You hire good people to inform leadership to tell them what needs doing. The leaders merely put this into action. So, a bit of advice? Don’t go around thinking you know best.
You employ people to take the company forward and you have to give them the freedom to come up with the ideas and try new things. Even if your gut says you wouldn’t do it that way, a strong leader let’s them move forward with their plan but ultimately has to possess the wisdom to halt things when they can see something dangerous is up ahead/ the risk to the business is too great.
Much like when you teach a child to ride a bike, you allow them to make the mistakes but also guide them to prevent any nasty crashes.
So with that in mind, I encourage leaders to pick their people up when they fall, not to continue hitting them into the ground. There’s a fine line between lessons learnt and blame. It’s a real skill to approach things and say ‘what can we learn from this’ rather than ‘you did this wrong’.
Everyone remembers a great leader and in your career you might be lucky enough to have more than one or two. For me, it was the leader I had when I entered my first management position. He was the director of one of the newspapers that I worked for. I was only a junior manager at the time, with a lot more chiefs above me before you got to him! But no matter what, when he could see something was troubling me, he’d take the time to come and listen to my problem, identify the barriers and talk it out with me until I came up with a solution. It made me feel like an important part of the business and that what I was doing was important.
Listening skills are an underrated quality of a good leader. If you don’t think you’re going to be listened to, then you won’t develop and thrive. You’ll mentally clock out until one day, you end up leaving the company for greener pastures.
Think of your business as a watch. If you hire the right people, every cog and wheel is important. It only takes one small part to be missing for everything to fall apart.
Leadership takes a rich tapestry of skills. But come to terms with the fact that you don’t have all of them, and you probably never will. Because when you think you have them all nailed down, something else will come along.
You have to keep up with society. As themes evolve, like diversity and inclusion, you can’t lag behind as a leader. You need to grow with the society around you, educate yourself and push forward. Otherwise you cannot keep that standard high.
As a leader, you’re a standard bearer. You’re the litmus test/ barometer for your business. You have to set the standard and measure that the standard is appropriate and that everyone is adopting it business wide.
Whilst keeping up with ever changing societies, you must also continuously reflect on your business’s place in society. You can think you’re running the best business in the world, but if it’s not helping society (in some way, shape or form) then you have to question why it’s in business.
Some may argue the toss on this, but to me, the most important characteristic of a leader is gravitas. Someone with gravitas has the ability to put themselves in the shoes of the person they’re engaging with. It’s the difference between a leader saying ‘this is what we do’ and ‘this is how i can help you’. It’s a reverse Uno card for business. It turns into what are you trying to achieve, what help do you need and how can I help that. Product vs solution, feature vs benefit.
It’s needed when dealing with external forces just as much as when dealing with internal employees. You put yourselves in their position and look at barriers, what might they need, what support do they need? Most importantly – how you can fix it.
Finally, something I truly believe in is going back to basics. Revisit your job spec. If it’s longer than 6 bullet points, you need to review it. Trustees and boards write the job spec of the CEO, potentially to try and tell the CEO what to do which is wrong. You hire a CEO to do what they believe needs doing. High level targets are fine, but ultimately, it’s up to the person you’re hiring.