Leadership is not a simple business and is certainly full of challenges. It comes easier to some people than others, but the key skills required can all be learnt. Everyone will find certain elements of being a leader more difficult than others, but being a good leader involves a range of skills that must be mastered. Here is my list of those essential elements of leadership which I think can provide us with the greatest challenges:
1. Outlining the vision and keeping people focussed on it:
One of the most fundamental roles of leadership is to articulate the vision of the business. The leader must know where the business is heading and what the overall purpose is behind all the day to day tasks and activities. Keeping everyone else focused on this and understanding why they are doing what they are doing is an ongoing challenge. It is all too easy to get side-tracked into detail, which can result in parts of the organisation going off at tangents and doing things that do not contribute to the aims of the business.
2. Giving critical feedback:
Developing the team and achieving high performance can only be achieved when people are given feedback on how they are doing. This will be both positive and critical, but sometimes it can be tempting to avoid difficult conversations about aspects of behaviour or performance that require attention. Leaders have to work to develop relationships with team members that allow open and honest communication about things that aren’t going so well, not just the good stuff.
3. Seeking feedback and learning from it:
The flip-side of giving critical feedback is seeking it and dealing with it appropriately. Employees are unlikely to volunteer information about things you do or fail to do that would allow them work more productively or develop. You as the leader need to actively seek this feedback and show by word and deed that what they say will not be held against them. When you get feedback it can take some time to digest and understand what you can learn from it. Resist the urge to defend yourself or justify your actions. Realise that this is how things are from where they are and consider what you can do about it.
4. Allowing others to develop:
A key part of your job as leader is to know when to intervene and when to get out of the way and let other people shine. Talented people are ambitious and want to play a real role in developing ideas and achieving results. Part of the leader role is to help people develop by providing support rather then giving them the answers. There is no point expecting to hold onto talented people forever, but your business will benefit most from them, and retain them for longer, if you help them to develop professionally.
5. Advocating change and following through on delivery:
Leaders have to be the one person in the organisation who loves change. It is a well known fact that most people do not welcome change and many will actively resist it. You are not leading your business if you are not looking for and dealing with continual change. Delivering on long term aims can be really challenging if it involves significant changes. It can be difficult anyway, but when the aims involve making changes, it can take a huge level of energy and commitment to take other people with you. It comes down to the leader to be a consistent source of energy who will stay focused on carrying changes through to delivery.
6. Admitting when you are wrong and saying sorry:
One of the qualities of the most effective leaders is that they are ‘human’. People can relate to them as real people who, like them, have home lives, personal feelings and the same human frailties as anyone else. Everyone makes mistakes and it is important to acknowledge your mistakes rather than pretend that you are perfect. So accept that it is normal and acceptable to make mistakes and be open about admitting these promptly and apologising if that is appropriate.
7. Staying positive when things go wrong:
Failure is an unavoidable part of business and there are of course times when things are not going as well as you would like them to. The leader plays a vital role in setting the tone of morale in an organisation. People will look to you as an indicator of how things are and what this means for the business. For that reason you do need to remain positive even when you do not feel that way.