Leadership in all its forms is central to our business and our experience at ClearWorth. Our research, our design and development of programmes, our personal and organisational learning and our hands-on experience in corporations and cultures all over the world in the last 30 years gives us unique insights into what leadership is and isn’t and what leaders need to focus on to be consistently successful.
The study of leadership has entertained academics and business people for the last 150 years or so. Many theories and concepts have come and gone and a Google search for “Leadership Books” will yield more than 280 million results. It’s an easy subject to write about and read about, to study, theorise and hypothesise – but the essence of leadership was strangely elusive for many years. Hence there were all kinds of ideas, from the earliest Great Man theories of the 19th century to the various forms of traits theory through the 20th century, and the fruitless search for the qualities and competencies. Situational leadership suggested more about the context than the qualities or behaviours required and the differentiation between management and leadership continues as a starting point to this day.
Our position at ClearWorth is clear. Firstly, we see leadership as a function not a position. It has little or nothing to do with what your job title is. You may, indeed, find yourself as a leader by accident rather than design as Warren Bennis suggested.
“More leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together.”
― Warren G. Bennis, On Becoming a Leader Revised Edition
Secondly we most closely align with the notion of servant leadership. Your role as leader is to serve your people. Robert Greenleaf first suggested this as a concept in the 1970’s when he wrote in his essay The Servant as Leader: -
"The servant leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead."
Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", was a major proponent of servant leadership and penned the foreword for the 25th Anniversary edition of Robert Greenleaf’s book saying, “One of the fundamental, timeless principles is servant leadership and I am convinced that it will continue to dramatically increase in its relevance”.
Our third principle is, we believe, the central idea that turned the study of leadership on its head. It is an extension of the servant leader idea but is more explicit. It is, quite simply, that you cannot be a leader without followers. In fact, the only thing all leaders have had in common since time immemorial is followers. Nothing to do with charisma, integrity, panache, persuasiveness, principles or power. In a seminal article first published in Harvard Business Review in 2000 Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones posed the ultimate question for any leader, “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” and this has guided much of our thinking, learning and programme development. We focus not on the qualities, competencies, traits, personalities, circumstances or background of the leader. We focus on the relationship that the followers have with the leader that causes them to want to follow.
We suggest that, for leadership within an organisation (whether it be a small, group, team or international entity) to be sustainable, the person charged with that role should consider a number of items their personal responsibility and ensure that they become, and remain what we tend to call a high value leader. They offer service and value to their people by their actions. Their central role is to help people achieve, develop and make the best contribution they can.
Fundamental to all of this is the notion of change. The leader’s job is to bring about or support and promote change of some sort. This is not management. Management is about maintaining things. Leadership is about taking people somewhere they haven’t been before. We never suggest that leadership is better than management. They are different roles and many, (indeed most) people in organisations perform a mixture of both functions as part of their work.
Our fourth principle is that learning and leading are intertwined. Given that leadership is about change, the leader must also adopt the thinking and mindset that they must also change, develop and learn. One of the biggest reasons for leadership failure or derailment is the belief that they know it all and have nothing to learn.
One of our central mottos is “The art of leading is the art of learning”. We therefore suggest the following as part of our guidelines for effective leadership learning and development –
Ten Things You Can Do to Be a Better Leader
- Understand that your role is to bring about change, to have things be in a new state not to maintain the status quo. The change is your responsibility. You will ultimately measure your success as a leader by the amount of lasting change that you have successfully implemented.
- Define and make public what will exist when your job as leader is complete. Recognise that this may change but this is what you want to achieve given what you know at the moment. Unless people know what you want to achieve they can't choose whether or not to follow.
- Remind yourself daily that the only thing that defines a leader is whether or not people choose to follow. Vision, charisma, power all mean nothing unless people have enough confidence in your ability to get to a place they haven't been before. The moment they stop following you stop leading.
- Write down the answer to the question "Why should they follow you?" This is an important question and deserves time and careful consideration. This is not about your achievements or your prowess - in fact it's not even about you it's why they should be led by you.
- Write down your personal values -- the things you stand for -- and refine the list to your most important "top five". These may or may not align with the organisational values but they must be the things that you truly believe in and are willing to fight to uphold.
- Every week, and preferably every day, list what you’ve done. Job 1 is your basic job description. Job 2 is finding a better way of doing Job 1. Your Job 2 list is, in fact, what the organisation is employing you to do as a leader. If your Job 1 dominates you're not doing the right thing.
- Find a way of recording what you've learned that helps you be a better leader. This learning could be a realisation of a way of working that you decide to change or a more formal piece of learning. If you don't learn and adapt you'll be out of a job.
- Develop ways of communicating the big picture and progress measures to help people see where they are on the journey towards your desired end result. There will always be some doubts, rumours and miscommunication. The more they hear it directly from you the less likely the message will be lost.
- Make it really clear to people whether or not they have a say or vote in processes and outcomes. Is this a decision you have already made? Do you want information so that you can make a better decision or are you giving them a share in the decision-making role?
- Help your people understand the need for change and encourage them to question and challenge as a way of working out for themselves if they want to be part of it. But do not accept passengers or prisoners. If you can't change the people -- change the people.