When I was young I didn’t think I would be a ‘leader’, I didn’t have the BIG personality and I certainly didn’t feel that I was strong and capable enough for leadership material. Over time, I have learnt more about myself through many different experiences and have become a modern leader. I am now the one who has the capability and privilege to lead others and help them to shine, just like the leaders I have learnt from.
When you do a quick search on Amazon it returns over 70,000 book results for ‘leadership’! Everyone has an opinion on it. Leadership is crucial, evolving and something we all want, crave and need. It seems everyone is searching for the magic quick fix formula. So what qualities and attributes do I believe are needed for success today and what have I learnt in my own role as a modern leader and management consultant?
Throughout my career working in lots of different companies, I have been able to observe great leaders and I’ve been led by some amazing leaders that have helped me to develop my own craft. My top 6 modern leadership attributes are trust, transparency, vulnerability, kindness, empowerment and calmness. Some of these attributes will come naturally and others will have to be developed through deliberate observation, practice and learnt behaviour. These attributes I believe are key, must haves, vital to success in today’s business landscape.
True leadership is about creating, building and maintaining trust. In many ways, all the other attributes of a great modern leader work together towards this common goal, trust. Trust is built incrementally, potentially taking a long time to build, but it can be torn down in a second. People you lead want to trust you’re on their side, they need to know that you are going to nurture them, grow and empower them. Learn how to build trust and people will follow and respect you. The outcome of leading with trust is an amazing culture and learning environment where it is safe for people to try, learn, adapt and grow. You will also see strong business benefits of high performance, collaboration and alignment to a common purpose.
Be honest and tell the truth to those you lead. Leaders with transparency build up a team and will see trust, security, open feedback and collaboration flourish in the workplace. An excellent place to start with transparency is to communicate consistently, regularly and honestly. When I was starting out at work, a friend told me his boss had asked him to lie to a client to cover up an error, he said back to his boss, “I don’t lie, and I won’t lie for you”. You need to decide who you want to be and hold strongly to it because leadership will challenge those values and who you are. Don’t fool yourself, people can spot a liar and a fake a mile away.
“Vulnerability is not weakness, it’s our most accurate measure of courage” – Brene Brown
I’ve been on a journey with vulnerability in my leadership and this can be hard! Championed by Brene I practice being personal, talking and sharing about personal parts of life that can easily be skipped. Vulnerability is about giving of self and taking the jump of courage, it’s listening to what is going on for people beyond what you can immediately see. This behaviour ultimately creates psychological safety by creating a space where the people under my leadership can share in a safe, non-judgemental environment some of their personal, team and workplace challenges. Showing people that you are human, relatable and empathetic allows you to lead from the front and also from within and behind. Vulnerability will create deep lasting relationships where together you can achieve amazing things and research has shown that this is a key difference in high-performing teams.
Lead by showing people that you care, even take it a step further and show your team love. Kindness is a powerful gift that can build an awesome team built on trust and respect. Start by finding out about people’s lives and what’s important to them, compliment people on who they are and even call out their strengths in 1:1s and/or in front of others. Try to thank each person you talk to daily for what they bring to the team, for a piece of work they have completed or for a conversation they had with a client or colleague. When you do this, you will see your people thrive and grow.
Empower others to lead, build a team and move towards teamwork. As a leader it is your role to create the space for others to grow by being clear on expectations and intent, creating the space for them to lead, make decisions and have autonomy. There will be times when they make mistakes, and that is when you are there to support, guide and help them learn and grow. You must let others make decisions, so they grow and develop, if you don’t they will stagnate, and that will be a failure of leadership. I’m convinced that teamwork and collaboration is the future and leadership can unlock the potential of people and teams to create high-performing organisations.
“If you want people to think, give them intent, not instruction” – David Marquet
Create an environment of calmness. Those you lead want to know that you’ve got it, that you have them covered and that everything is under control! This is often a learnt behaviour that shines in uncertainty, stress and trouble. The leader’s language both verbal and non-verbal, needs to work together to provide an atmosphere of calm and peace. Calmness is a central pillar and works in tandem to build empowerment, transparency and trust. An excellent place to start is to work on making decisions that will create calmness and communicating the decision, be it information, change, prioritisation or delegation in a calm manner. Calmness provides protection, safety, lifts your team and creates loyalty because people will want to work with you.
In conclusion, instead of focusing on other key leadership skills such as vision, strategy, objective setting, goals, motivation, measurement, decision making and leadership tools, I focused on these six key attributes. Though considered ‘soft’ by some, the attributes are challenging and dynamic skills to possess in modern leadership. I encourage you and I believe that if you learn, grow and mature these attributes, it will impact the outcomes and success where you lead.