When most people start a business, they bring a specific job skill to the enterprise. They quickly learn that running a business is considerably more than the trade or job which brings in the money. They find out that financial management, purchasing, marketing, planning, selling and leadership are just a few of the other skills that they require.
It is not until they employ their first member of staff that they realise the difficulties associated with leadership. Normally, nothing prepares people so that they can take up a leadership role. Most managers learn leadership by making mistakes. Not a very effective strategy.
A Definition of Leadership
Let’s have a look at a definition of leadership:
Gordon Lippitt, a professor at George Brown University, after studying the subject for years, concluded:
“Leadership is the worst defined, least understood, personal attribute sometimes possessed by human beings.”
There is no coincidence that the best run and most profitable businesses have effective leaders in charge. So what are the characteristics of these effective leaders? There are several characteristics which are evident in the behaviour of successful leaders. These are the starting point for a person who wants to improve their leadership skills.
- They give their staff freedom and contribute to their development. They are trusting, inspiring, encouraging and honest. They respect the individual by giving them feedback on their performance frequently.
- They keep their word, protect and fight for the people in their team. Effective leaders never use blame when there has been an error or a mistake.
- They understand that people can learn from failure. They permit staff to challenge them. They are innovative.
- They are collaborative, good listeners and display confidence. They are approachable and ask for others’ input. They take risks.
- They are willing to learn, either through on the job or staff training. They value feedback about their own performance from their staff and peers.
- They demonstrate their concern about the safety, development and welfare of their staff.
- They catch people doing it right and coach people doing it wrong. They use this technique to build teamwork and raise individual performance.
Coping with the Rate of Change
Business managers who want to develop their leadership skills and recognise that it is a process, not an event will always perform better than others. Especially those who believe they know everything and have stopped learning. These people are perfectly equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists and will fall behind.
The rate of change we are currently experiencing is not going to slow down; it is going to accelerate. The survivors of change will not be the most intelligent, the best qualified, or the strongest. The successful leaders and business managers of the future will be the ones who have the ability to respond to or anticipate, change.
Learners of Leadership Skills
However, successful business managers may no longer be holders of technical knowledge, they will be learners of leadership skills. They will be the employers of people with technical knowledge. In the future, we are going to expect more and more from our people. This means that we will require a greater percentage of each person’s talent and ability.
To liberate this talent and ability we will need managers with leadership skills. As the workplace population diminishes, each employee becomes proportionately more influential and has a greater effect on the output, quality and safety of each business organisation.
Our leadership skills are going to have to improve to get the very best from these people. We get our results through people, we don’t perform the tasks ourselves. There is no reason to believe that the best technical people will be the best leaders. In fact, if you think back, we have appointed people because of their technical knowledge in the past and so many have failed. Our prime responsibility to our employees is to ensure that they are led by people with well-developed leadership skills.
Leadership Skills: A Smarter Investment
A person with plenty of theoretical knowledge and little experience or ability in leadership will have a profoundly negative effect on their staff. A person with low technical knowledge and high leadership skills will get the better results through their people.
In an ideal world, the technical people should be the best leaders, however, this is fairly rare. It is a far easier to acquire knowledge than develop skills. In the real world, the problems which cause us the most difficulty are not technical problems but people problems. This is because we have not invested sufficient training in this skill.