The Lessons of Great Leadership

There used to be a time when I was suspecting that I had a problem with authority. I didn’t have much respect for my boss at the time, and in general I was feeling very disillusioned. This is not a nice frame of mind to be in so one invariably begins wondering why things are the way they are – is it because of me? Is it because of the other person? Is it a combination of both?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just not very good at putting up with what I call the ‘Mushroom Management Method‘ or M3 for short… What’s that you may wonder and it is a joke which someone once mentioned, but it stuck with me, because it summarised so well all things I felt really sucked with the situation this person was putting me in. The Mushroom method plain and simple is to be kept in the dark and covered with Sh*t. Your leader likes to keep you in the dark (never telling you the bigger picture or the reasons why decisions are made the way they are – so invariably you are faced with two options: a) there is no bigger picture, because no one has a clue or b) people aren’t actually making these decisions for the greater good of the company, but to serve their own ends and thus one cannot state this openly) and cover you with Sh*t (i.e if you do ask questions you get a random combination of Bull Shiitake in reply such as, ‘you are a great, talented blah blah and don’t you worry about these things.. or.. we’ve got it under control.. or this a decision by higher management, and doesn’t have to be justified to people like you..(what so now you are saying they don’t have a clue?) and so on and so forth).

Anyway – you get my drift. All this is incredibly corrosive to a team and very demotivating to individuals, because yes, you do stop respecting your leader pretty much instantly when you get treated like this and secondly: you never learn to get better either, which results in the same mistakes being repeated over and over again. Again very discouraging and nothing makes you feel more stuck in a job than not having any opportunities to learn.

There is hope though – for every bad leader there are many good ones out there. I am blessed with one at the moment and I have realised that no, I have absolutely no problem with authority as long as it is vested in someone I have a lot of respect for. In fact: I welcome it!  Trying to pick apart what makes a great leader, someone stuck this list under my nose the other day, but sadly it is devoid of the credits of the original author! Thus my request to all of you – if you recognise this list, please let me know who to credit, because credit needs to be given where credit is due and this: my friends is a pretty exhaustive list, which defines in my opinion so well what makes a great leader. Here we go:

1. Clear Strategic Intent
The ability of the leadership to set and continually reinforce the vision for the Organisation. Having the courage to outline what is possible to achieve and getting the people to understand the exciting future. Getting motivation through continually reminding people of the importance of taking the Organisation forward and giving inspiration on achieving extraordinary results.

2. Assembling the Team

  • Get to know each other: Understanding how important it is to know what the team members are like. Knowing what their attitudes, opinions and objectives are as well as their style of working. Realising it is important to devote time to ‘the team’ as opposed to ‘the task’.
  • Job allocation: Having clear roles and responsibilities and encouraging each team member to become an expert in their field. Having the trust that each team member knows what they are doing and ensuring that their contribution is valued.
  • Information: High performing teams rely on plenty of information. They want to know what is happening and how their contributions affect the performance of the team as a whole.
  • Goal Setting: Having a clear process for setting and monitoring short-term and long-term goals. Ensuring that these goals are reviewed and adjusted dependant on the performance of the team, and making sure they are challenging without being impossible.
  • Boldness and Decisiveness: Having the inspiration to make decisions even though there may not be complete information available. Not playing it safe, which is usually too late. Having the courage to admit to a poor decision, and adapting quickly without huge recriminations and postmortems
  • Follower or Pioneer? Being  prepared to take a risk and being a pioneer. There are times when good ‘Followship’ is essential. However, most winning teams have to take a chance and pioneer at times.

3. Running the Team

  • Clear Briefing: Spending time briefing the team clearly on a specific task, or project, before it is started. Not relying on ‘seat of the pants’ management. Ensuring that most actions are worked out before the task is attempted rather than playing it by the ear as it goes along.
  • Performance Review: Reviewing performance regularly to see where improvements should be made. Having an ethos that the team themselves review performance as a matter of discipline, and not relying on the leadership to suggest this happens.
  • Avoid ‘Blame Culture’: The attitude of learning from mistakes, but not having a witch hunt. ‘Leaving it on the wave behind’ rather than indulging in personal witch hunts to find out not whether it was right or wrong, but rather whose fault it was.
  • Empathy: Having an ethos of genuine caring for the well-being of others. Helping the less experienced or skilled in the team so that they feel they have people who they are able to look to for help.
  • Scuttlebutt: Making sure there is no malicious gossip. Having the culture that says clearly that gossip is unacceptable and if the person has a gripe with another team member then their duty is to sort it out face to face, or keep quiet.

4. Maintaining the team

  • Not all are heroes: Understand that not all team members are in the limelight. Finding people who support the performance of the team and realise that some of the less noticeable actions contribute hugely to the overall performance. Finding these unsung heroes and giving them the recognition they deserve.
  • Continuous improvement: Making sure there is an ethos of looking for ways to improve performance and that these ideas are encouraged and recognised.
  • Coaching: Making sure that team members realise that they are expected to learn new skills and are relied upon to keep themselves up-to-date. Also to realise that teaching and coaching others is the responsibility of all, and that they must spend time helping others to improve their skill levels.
  • Quiet word: Spending time giving words of encouragement and congratulation to team members. The ability to notice the little things that people contribute and acknowledging this contribution by having a quiet word.
  • Formal Briefings: Giving time to organise formal briefings which run efficiently with a proper agenda and clear starting and finishing times. Making sure that these times are kept to and no waffle is allowed.

Here we go. Next on the agenda is what are the Lessons of Great Followership… stay tuned!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Bailey says:

    This way of doing this makes quite a few assumptions. Number one is that people must be held accoutable and that does not seem a strength of this way of doing things. The “not all people are heros” part creates silent resentment among other people in the group. People resent those not pulling equal weight.
    When you just keep people in the dark there is often a reason for it. The same one that you mentioned. NOT ALL PEOPLE ARE HERO’s – what that means is that old line…. some people honestly cant handle knowing everything.
    You have an interesting view and it sounds nice but it is not completely practical.

  2. Cecilia says:

    My call for credits to this pretty exhaustive list of leadership lessons has finally been answered: The person to credit is Humphrey Walters, a teamwork and teambuilding motivational speaker. This particular list derives from his experiences of team work and leadership in a hostile environment; where he draws examples from the 1996-1997 BT Round-the-world yacht race. Excellent stuff – read more on:

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