Who are the leaders in your neighbourhood?
With apologies to Sesame Street, how do we spot a leader in our midst? What ingredients make for a certain individual to have the style and substance to be a leader of people?
Spotting a phoney leader is not too difficult. Phoney leaders intimidate or manipulate people, leading forcefully but without real confidence in themselves or a belief in a cause. They are actors on a stage, following a script and protecting their image.
They stopped learning many years ago, believing they ?know it all?. They fail to inspire people through the mastery of their craft, seeking more often to do it through their position and persona. They use rhetorical language rather than simple and direct language which speaks of problems or opportunities in a manner which directly connects to the people they seek to lead.
It is obviously important for organisations to pick true leaders for development and not phoney leaders. To do so, it is important to appreciate what to look for in a real leader at an early stage of their development. The qualities to look for are not about style.
Leaders can have many different styles and different organisations require different leadership styles dependent on the environment in which they find themselves. An organisation in crisis may well appreciate a command and control style leader over a coach or a team captain type. If there is fire in the building I want one person giving orders and everyone else concentrating on making sure they are carried out!
Leadership will present itself early on in a person’s career in one or more of the following ways.
They will have already displayed leadership. They will have taken control of a situation to get a job done. It may appear as if they have even acted out of character in that it was the environment that caused them to step up and take a lead. Alternatively, they may have been a leader in a role outside of their work environment such as a social club or a church group or sports group.
They will have a record of constructive criticism. They will not be ?yes men?, or ?yes women? for that matter. However they will not be destructive. They will have practical ideas that they present as alternatives to the view which they have criticised.
Completion of projects and tasks with a clearly observable sense or personal responsibility to get the job done will separate them from those not willing to or unable to lead.
Often, there will be a respect for family which comes through in their everyday discussion. Respect for family and respect in a family demonstrates leadership in what can be a fairly tough ?team? environment. Most family members are much more honest with other members in the family than is prevalent in a workplace. Dealing with honest feedback and retaining respect is a good sign of leadership.
At times, they may have displayed a mental toughness which others have not. Common attributes of people with mental toughness include an ability to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty and perform in spite of it. They tend to seek solution oriented feedback from which they will adjust their performance and in doing so demonstrate that they do not have to be right all the time. ?I don’t know, but I can find out? will not be absent from their vocabulary.
Moreover, they will maintain clear and logical thought under pressure. They will not be prone to knee-jerk reactions. They will seek to understand the problem before they seek a solution. Under pressure they will remain focused on the goal but adapt to circumstance to find solutions.
They will have the respect of their peers, although they may not be popular. Popularity is not an indicator of leadership. They may be respected for the mastery of their particular topic or their skills and will certainly be respected for an observed consistency between what they say and what they do.
They will have demonstrated an ability to see issues in a broad context, making linkages between seemingly unrelated issues and have an appreciation of the detail surrounding an issue. High potential leaders will be able to maintain an appreciation of the detail and the broad context as they move from one issue to another.
Above all, they will have a quality that makes many people listen to them.
Although in some cases it is beneficial to bring in leaders from outside an organisation to ensure the status quo is challenged, building leaders from within an organisation provides morale building benefits over an above the obvious efficiency and effectiveness benefits.
Finding leaders early in their career and developing them through participation in projects and job assignments which challenge them is a key role for today’s leaders. Are you able to spot them?