I have had the pleasure of working for some really inspirational leaders, leaders from whom I learned a lot. These are some of the lessons I have learned from some of the best leaders I have worked for and observed.
1. Stand by your decisions. If you are making hard decisions that affect people’s lives, you put your face out there. There’s no hiding. If you make the decision, then you stand beside it, even when the going gets tough. (This doesn’t mean you can’t rethink.)
2. Be accountable. No excuses, if you make the decision then you own up to it.
3. Be fair. Find out the information from both (or more) sides of the story and hear both sides out fairly before making a decision. Particularly important in staff disputes and performance management situations.
4. Be available. People want to understand. They want to connect.
5. To err is human. We all make mistakes – you, me, everyone. It’s part of the human experience. Own up to your own mistakes and be clear that if you are changing your decision, you know you are changing your decision – you are not pretending that this was the decision all the way along (and why didn;t everyone esle understand that?). Likewise, recognise that the most perfect, hardworking and motivated employee will make mistakes from time to time.
6. Don’t make people wrong. So you are looking to lead your organisation in a new direction. Don’t start with a scorched earth policy – belittling and destroying everything that has gone before. What happened then happened for a reason and might have been the right thing at the time. Now times are different. You don’t need to make the past wrong in order to have a burning platform for change now and in the future. You also lose goodwill from staff if you denigate what they have done in the past.
7. Criticising the previous incumbent in your position is a cheap shot. And most of us recognise it for what it is. It doesn’t make your performance good, even in comparison. If you are good at your job, demonstrate it by being good, not by making everyone else bad.
8. Part of being a leader – a really big part of it – is dealing with your own emotional luggage. This is the EQ that makes someone a good leader because they aren’t wrapped up in their own emotions, triggers, reactions etc. You need to be able to be objective, you need to be focussed on the task at hand and how it is going. You need to not inflict your psychological hang-ups on others.
9. Being objective doesn’t mean you have no compassion. A Level 6 leader is a true human being who can bring their human compassion and understanding to the job – and still get the job done. It is possible to performance manage or discipline someone with compassion. It’s hard, and the person may not appreciate it at the time, but it’s ethical.
10. Bring people on the journey with you. Particularly if you are new to the organisation, you may have a different idea or understanding of what needs to be done, the direction you need to head in. But respect the people around you enough to explain it to them and bring them on the journey. They aren’t in the same “idea” space as you because their journey has been different. This means you need to lead.
11. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you are truly inspired by the tasks ahead of you, it is easier to inspire others. And inspiration works – it can set a workforce alight with ideas, energy and motivation. Be passionate.
12. You don’t have to pretend everything is great all the time – but be careful what you say. Casual throw-away comments by the leader can be taken very seriously by staff.
13. Set the example. People watch the leader to see what they are doing, what is the expected standard. Work hard and be seen to work hard. Be respectful of others. Model good morale and good relationships. Be ethical. All of these things set the tone for people around you and help establish a positive culture.
14. Don’t be fake. You’ll get caught out and you’ll lose all credibility. And being fake about caring about others, being ethical or being an expert in a field is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
15. Assume the best motivations in people. Assume that most people want to come to work to do a good job. Usually you will be right. This doesn’t mean being naive or not recognising when something is wrong, but it gives people the opportunity to prove you right.
16. Be professional in all things.
That’s what comes to my mind as I think about some of the inspirational people I have known. The behaviours I have described, while modelled for me by leaders, are not only for leaders but also for people who want to be leaders, and those who want to work in a positive ethical workplace.
What else have I missed?