A birds eye view on management and leadership

What makes a good leader

Undoubtedly, most leaders would agree that good leadership in an organisation is about helping their employees be their best and achieving their best work. Nothing new in that, but why do so many fail to achieve this?

The attributes of what good leadership in an organisation look like are well researched and widely known, such as:

  • Giving people space.
  • Giving them worthwhile and challenging projects to do.
  • Give them help and support when required.
  • A pat on the back when they do a good job.

Despite this, study after study finds that, on average, many leaders simply fail to deliver that. There seems to be a wide gap between what we know we should do and what we do, Theory vs Practice.

Research finds that one of the common reasons for this is that many of the things that we learn to do as individuals during our initial years working in non-leadership roles push us towards keeping control to ourselves, such as taking credit for our achievements and essentially being the boss – of ourselves. However, good leadership is about giving power and glory away to your team members. This is one reason new leaders find it an unnatural act and feel forced into doing things that do not come naturally due to our early years’ experience. But once we become leaders, we need to take a step back and help the people in their charge to do the same. Essentially the more senior we grow into our leadership roles, the more we have to unlearn those behaviours that got us to these senior leadership positions in the first place and learn a whole new set of behaviours and learn to let go and give people the latitude and scope to figure things out for themselves. Accepted, this doesn’t come naturally to most of us, as we were the experts in those fields before becoming leaders of those in the field now.

So is promoting technical experts to leadership positions part of the problem?

For the most part, yes, and a significant number of people get promoted to a position of “incompetence”. Yes, some people should never be leaders in their fields (or at least not without extensive leadership training and mentorship). Just because they are great technical experts in that field doesn’t automatically make them great leaders for other technical experts.

There is a significant majority of those great technical experts who can change and learn to lead. A lot of that comes down to self-awareness, understanding of our limitations and behavioural biases. Many of these biases are different and down to each individual. Still, the most common ones are preferences for micro-managing, trying to control and staying on top of every detail. And as we know, micro-managing has a lot of dangers associated with it.

Another well-promoted phenomenon that plays a significant role in creating those biases are “trusting your gut”. The idea that somehow leaders know it all, and their intuition gives them the correct answers. We’ve certainly seen some successful examples of that, but more often than not, hard analysis is the basis for good decisions.

What could you do to become better leaders?

First and foremost, change your worldview and perspective, and see it from your employees’ worldview. Admittedly that’s easier said than done, and yes, there are some practical ways of achieving this, but on a theoretical level, a conceptual shift is a must.

One of the many practical ways to achieve this is to find something to give away some power to your employees and team. This doesn’t have to be something significant; it can be something as small as allowing your staff to choose their starting and finishing times (if their job roles can accommodate it) or something as massive as when Tony Blair decided to give the power of monetary policy away to the Bank of England.

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