True Leadership

by Greg Phillips

There are many aspects to being a great leader. I believe that despite this, every leadership characteristic can be defined under only two main categories. These categories are either skills or behavioural. By skills I refer to things like Effective Communication, Delegating, Time Management, Conducting Staff Appraisals, Running Effective Meetings, Presentation Skills, Managing P&L’s etc. By behavioural I refer to things that we might call qualities such as Persona, Confidence, Self-Motivated, Consistent Behaviour, Positive Attitude, Resilience, Integrity etc. Whatever attribute you can think of will likely fall under one of the two categories of either skills or behavioural.

I often ask people in our Leadership Development Programs the following question, “Who are some leaders you admire?” A number of obvious well-known people come up but we always get round to less famous people that the participants know personally and in most cases have worked with. I then ask, “What is it you admire about these leaders?” The response always includes words like integrity, trustworthy, honest, fair, confidence, persona, resilient, consistent, vision, perseverance, positive, winning attitude, copes with adversity.

What is interesting is that all the responses fall under the category of behavioural. I’m usually the only person in the room not surprised by this. Whether or not you are a leader there is a great lesson to learn from this. If you want to be an influencer at any level, professional or private, people will respond to the way you behave, not how clever you are!

“Leadership has less to do with position than it does with disposition.”
– John C. Maxwell

Subordinate staff are not inspired by their boss’s skills in P&L management, delegating, ability or time management. They might be impressed but that’s not inspired. People are inspired by what people exude. People want, no, need to be treated with respect. I don’t mean being courteous. I mean genuinely valuing them, believing in them, identifying their individuality, engaging with them, listening and responding. You have to earn trust and loyalty, funnily enough, by being honest and trustworthy – it’s not rocket science is it?

Yet so many ‘leaders’ just don’t get it. Let’s use an old cliché – Do you want people to “Walk over hot coals for you”? It really is quite simple to achieve – do it for them first! Wow what a concept. I can hear the wail of some bosses right now – “What? I’m the boss!” But the sound of people all over Australia is already starting to drown them out with, “I’d love to work for a boss like that!”

You see, nobody can demand respect, loyalty or trust. These things have to be earned. There are no short cuts, no way to cheat the process. Great leaders have integrity and truly value their people. It is behaviour that is the differentiation between a Manager and a Leader. Am I saying that practical skills are not important? Of course not. An effective leader needs many skills however practical skills are under-utilised unless a leader has certain well-developed personal inner qualities.

 “Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.”
– General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

Getting people to “Walk over hot coals for you” is simple but I didn’t say it was easy. It requires unswerving dedication to the task. It requires truly valuing people as people, not as a commodity. It requires trusting people. It requires empowerment of people. It requires an understanding that if people are stretching themselves they will sometimes make mistakes. It requires coaching and supporting them to learn from their mistakes.

You might be reading this and questioning the validity of what I’m saying. That’s O.K. I respect your right to be wrong. Ooh – did that strike you as humorous or arrogant? Mmmm, people don’t want to work for someone who is arrogant do they? Or someone who is autocratic, bossy, rude, lacks respect for them, doesn’t recognise their valuable contribution, empathise with their needs or say thank you. Strange thing is there are bosses like this who wouldn’t want to work for themselves! Why do they think everyone else has different needs than them?

True leaders really are in the service of their people. True leaders act with integrity and in doing so they establish trust. True leaders genuinely value their people and in doing so they create loyalty. True leaders are in the business of assisting people realise their full potential and in doing so they inspire excellence.