5 aspects of great leadership and how to put them into practice
Leadership can be a title. It can be a position, like being first in line. It can be a mindset of responsibility. In fact, the word can mean many different things to many different people. And, that’s why we’re not going to tell you what we think it means. Instead, we want you to consider what you think it means. Why? Because there’s one aspect of leadership that commonly gets misinterpreted and misunderstood—power.
Before we discuss power, however, let’s dig a little bit into what leadership means to you. Pause for a second and try to recall the greatest leaders in your life and career. You might think of a grandparent who struggled through tough times. You might recall a coach who had a magical ability to rally a team. You might remember a mentor. You might immediately think of a former or current boss. Whomever you are thinking about, hold onto the image of that person for a second.
Most likely when you recall the great leaders in your life, you smile. You recall the lessons they taught you and you remember how they made you feel.
Now think about this. Did these leaders have power over you? That seems like an ugly question—as power is often perceived negatively. Nevertheless, when you truly step back and consider your answer, it’s yes. They did have power. Not because they took it. It’s because you chose to give them power.
Take a look at some of the best leaders, teams and cultures in the world. We have been fortunate to pick the brains of many of the world’s greatest and (maybe even more importantly) hear from the people they lead—who tell us all the time why they choose to follow these people. And, from all of these conversations and all of our research, we believe the most misunderstood aspects of leadership is this: powerful leadership is less about what the leaders choose to do and more about whether other people choose to follow them. In fact, the greatest leaders work for their people, rather than their people working for them.
Once again, recall the images of the greatest leaders in your life and career and, think about why you chose to follow them. Most likely, one or more of these five things was the reason why. You already know what they are. The question is; do you remember to practice them?
The greatest leaders…
1. Surrender power. If you remember your greatest leaders, you most likely remember them trusting in your ability. They hired you for your talent and expertise. They believed you would create the best result and, in doing so, they surrendered some of their power to you. This is what great leaders do. They hire smart, talented people who they can trust to increase value. As a leader you need to assess whether or not you’re doing the same for your team.
2. Create security. If you smiled when you thought about your best leaders, it’s most likely because you felt safe. Sure, they may have pushed you. They may have challenged you—sometimes in uncomfortable ways. But, they never made you feel unsafe. You were able to share ideas. You were able to be yourself. You were able to succeed or fail at a task, and the ownership was yours—without a fear of retribution. Great leaders do this. Your responsibility as leader is to create an environment where people feel safe and open to give all of their ideas and efforts. It doesn’t mean those ideas and efforts will always result in the best outcomes. But, at least your people will feel safe.
3. Share common goals. While every organisation has an overarching purpose, the best leaders understand how to align that purpose with the goals of their team members. Maybe you recall how your best leaders seemed to understand, or communicated, how your everyday work contributed both to the shared goals at the company, but also your individual future (creating a great CV, preparing you for leadership, or positioning you for a promotion). Great leaders understand that shared goals lift everyone, including the organisation, higher.
4. Applaud. O.C. Tanner is known for its expertise on the subject of the power of recognition. We have the research to make an undeniable business case for it. But, one aspect we don’t often talk about is the deeper meaning of applause. Of course you remember your greatest leaders cheering you toward a goal. You probably recall their exact words and how they made you feel. What you probably don’t recall is your realisation that those leaders, quite simply, were paying attention to your effort and energy. Great leaders communicate their appreciation of their people.
5. Expand opportunity. This is a big one and it’s often for an understandable reason. Remember your great leaders? Remember how they inspired you to become better, reach for the next level and believe in your own potential? We all want to grow in our careers. Truly great leaders never lose focus of this aspect—even though they can become distracted by their own growth and potential. They understand that if they want to become a better leader, their responsibility is to help their people become the best as well.
With big titles and greater responsibilities it can easy to lose sight of the real definition of power. You can choose to exert your power. But, it’s important to realise that you become the best leader possible when your people chose to exert theirs—the power to choose to follow you.
The authors are David Sturt Executive Vice President of Marketing at O.C. Tanner Institute and Todd is Director of Institute Content.
This article is provided by O.C.Tanner.
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