Friday, June 19, 2020

What’s the Secret to Strong Leadership?

Guest post from Alain Hunkins:

Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with thousands of teams, and tens of thousands of leaders in twenty-five countries around the world.   I’ve worked with every industry you can think of, as well as some industries you probably don’t know exist.

On the surface, each team and company’s situation and issues were unique. However, over time, I started to see patterns emerge- patterns of behavior.  It’s been said that success leaves clues, and it’s true.  Great leaders operate using similar principles to guide their actions.  What’s less well known, as equally as true, is that mistakes leave clues, too.  Poor leaders rely on a set of “shadow principles” that keep them mired in mediocrity.

So what separates great leaders from the rest?  Mastering three fundamentals:  connection, communication, and collaboration.
At its core, leadership isn’t about control, power, or a job title. Leadership is a relationship between two people. The quality of their relationship is built on the quality of their connection.  Connection provides the spark that gets others to willingly follow your lead. It’s the main ingredient in trust. There’s a reason we say, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”: it’s the root of humanity.

Connection comes with a price—the investment of your time and attention.  It also takes a willingness to put your ego aside.  Demonstrating empathy towards others means being courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  However, these upfront costs pay dividends on the back end—that of engagement and commitment.

When leaders are asked, “What is your biggest challenge at work?” communication is usually at the top of the list. This makes sense: leaders spend 70-90% of their time in group or team interactions every day.  Communication and leadership are joined at the hip.

Effective communication is harder than it looks. For the most part, it’s taken for granted.  We treat communication like a basic utility. Just like the electricity in your home, it’s expected that it’ll always be there for you. Not until the blackout do you notice you have a real problem.

The challenge with communication isn’t one of quantity -- it’s a quality issue.  Great leaders know that the goal of act of communication isn’t communicating, it’s to create shared understanding. The best leaders don’t assume that getting to understanding just happens.   They know that the nature of transferring meaning from one person to another is rife with challenges. They accept obstacles as part and parcel of the process. They just happen to know what those obstacles will be in advance, so they can proactively deal with them.

If there’s one constant in 2020, it’s change.  This year we’ve taken VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) to a whole new level.  People, companies and entire industries have had to pivot and reinvent themselves.  Technology has connected more people in more places at more times than ever before. Leaders need to harness the power of these connections. 

Today’s leader can’t stay stuck in a silo, relying on the antiquated model of top-down command and control. Instead of commanding, they need to become skilled facilitators.  Instead of being in charge, they need to focus on helping the people in their charge.

Collaborative leaders call on a variety of skills. They need to know how to build a common vision and unifying purpose. They need to inspire others to bring their whole selves to work. They need to create a climate that draws out the best ideas. They need to know how to flex their decision-making style for each situation.  If that wasn’t enough, they do all these things while making it easier for their people to do their best work.

These efforts bring rich rewards. Leading effective collaboration is a win/win. Not only are employees happier, creative and energized, but companies that promote collaboration are five times as likely to be high performing.

Connection, communication, and collaboration.  These fundamentals are the foundation for leadership success. They’re not complicated to understand, and they don’t require a great deal of sophistication. However, there’s a big gap between knowing and doing.  Practicing these principles consistently is what separates the great leaders from the rest.  If you call yourself “leader”, the true challenge is making connection, communication, and collaboration an everyday habit.

Building Strong Leaders (Wiley, March 2020) is a sought-after speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. Over his twenty-year career, Alain has designed and facilitated seminars on numerous leadership topics, including teambuilding, communication, peak performance, innovation, and change. His clients include Wal-Mart, Pfizer, Citigroup, IBM, General Motors, and Microsoft.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You hit the nail on the head with how leadership is not about control or how to control but about connections and how those can relate to the work we do. People will not successfully follow if they don't feel connected to leaders. Very important point.