Leadership isn’t a democratic art and frankly, nor should it be. There is a significant difference between listening, taking account of different opinions and decision by committee. Good leaders know when and how to differentiate between the two.
At the heart of this is my preferred definition of “to lead”, setting an example for others to follow. So much has been written about leadership and the art of listening that it is easy to forget that one of the core facets is acting first, being the one that others look to follow.
That’s why we in our organisational structures we often recognise leaders differently, whether that is in monetary reward or otherwise. The weight and responsibility of true leadership should fall heavy and with that comes the need to understand a multitude of data sets and views, but to be the one to choose, to act, to decide…to lead.
In doing this we have to recognise that sometimes the choices and decisions we make will be unpopular. Our job is to embrace and not shy away from this fact, but to seek to explain and persuade those that we lead to follow us on this path. Our responsibility is to be the ones brave enough to step out of the line and plot a different path.
Here’s a bet…
I reckon I could ask anyone in your workplace, or mine, to name one thing that would improve their work or working lives and they’d be able to tell me within an hour maximum.
And of course, if I asked you the same question, you’d be able to tell me too.
Yet we all sit on all of these ideas every day, because;
- we don’t have permission
- it’s complicated
- we don’t have the time
- they wouldn’t like it
All of those good ideas going to waste and instead we do a whole series of things that we don’t understand the purpose of, can’t define the value of, do because we’ve always done. We knowingly reduce our potential value.
As leaders our fundamental responsibility is to help teams to deliver the value that they hold, to allow them to contribute to the best of their ability and to fulfil their potential. To do this, we need to remove those things that prevent and get in the way.
Whilst changing cultures and refocusing teams isn’t easy, it is the reason we exist and the duty we have. We should ask ourselves, what other better purpose we could serve? Every transformation had a first step, everyone needs to start somewhere.
I’m going to make a sweeping statement based on nothing but experience and belief;
Too many leaders spend far too much time talking.
I’m not just extolling the virtues of listening and asking questions, I’m also talking about the ability to be able to hold silence and say nothing. Let me ask you, how many times have you been in a meeting where the most senior person has spent the largest amount of time speaking? And if you’re a leader, how many times have you come out of a meeting feeling like all you’ve done is tell people what to do?
What if you said absolutely nothing. Zip. Nada. Rien.
When we talk about empowerment and building sustainable, resilient teams it strikes me one of the first steps is to hold back the amount we needlessly contribute and focus more on adding value where it is asked for and needed.
The next time you’re in that situation, ask yourself:
- Has someone specifically asked for my view?
- Do I have information that I know will help people move forward?
- Do I have experience that I know no-one else in the room has?
- Would something dangerous/illegal/costly happen if I didn’t speak?
- Am I offering something that I don’t mind being ignored?
If the answer isn’t yes to one of these, you might want to check yourself and listen to the conversation before deciding to step in.
I would have done this, if.
They should have seen that coming.
They didn’t ask me, or.
If it was down to me I would have.
How many examples do you hear each day of self disempowerment, the passive acceptance of organisational impotence, the wilful self-denial of choice? How many times do you think or act in away that assumes you have less influence than you actually know to be true? What would the possibilities be if you were to try something different?
I don’t know if this is going to work, but I’m going to give it a go.
I need to tell someone about this, it could help.
How do I get involved more?
This is down to all of us, so what are we going to do?
In a time when our politics and our world is full of so few role models, where we see neither leadership of the people, nor for the people, we all need to do more. We need to do more for those around us, more for those that look up to us and most certainly more for ourselves.
We all look for leadership, but could the leader you’re looking for be you?