Do you have or aspire to a leadership position? Are you, or would you be, a good leader? How would you know? Many people aspire to a leadership position at some point in their careers – but do you deserve the respect and effort of your followers? The way to answer this is simple enough – think about what you want and like in a leader and ask yourself: “Do you have those qualities yourself?” Here’s how to figure it out.
How People Choose Leaders
First of all you have to figure out what you like in a leader. There are four reasons why we might like and want to be led by one particular person over another.
- We can’t do everything ourselves so we want help.
- Leaders focus on the far picture – and by doing so they allow us to focus on the near picture – other issues that are nearer and dearer to us.
- They have more knowledge or experience than us and they guide us.
- They can get resources for us.
- Self-interest – we want one particular leader over another because we believe they have our best interest at heart (perhaps more so than an alternative leader).
Think about it – have you ever had a leader that has the above qualities? And especially one that truly had your interests at heart?
How Organisations Choose Leaders
Now contrast that with how organisations choose leaders. The reasons people get promoted to positions of leadership (good and bad) are:
- They know a lot about the job. That’s good because people will respect their technical expertise. But it doesn’t make them a good leader.
- There was no one else. Well, that’s not a good reason but yep! It will do.
- They are favoured further up the chain. That’s not as bad as it sounds – an important part of a leader’s job is to manage upwards, and having somebody that is well regarded by more senior leadership is very useful. However, it might not wash well with the team they are meant to be leading – especially if their followers can see no benefit. For example, if a leader is unable to obtain time, resources, or does not stand up for their team, then what good are they to their followers?
- They share or can drive the organisation’s vision and agenda. Again not a bad reason to choose one particular person to lead over another, but it has little to do with why a team member would want to follow them.
There are other reasons, of course but perhaps you can see the big contradiction – the reasons we promote people into leadership have nothing to do with the reasons that people want to follow a leader.
Senior leadership might judge somebody on how they manage upwards – but their followers, judge leader on how they manage downwards. This has a whole pile of implications. For example, we don’t promote people to leadership positions because they develop their staff. Instead we promote leaders to be our agents and to get staff to do the things we want them to do. We promote leaders to prosecute our agenda. Staff however, like, and are loyal to, leaders that prosecute their agenda – that care about them.
How Staff Tell They Have a Good Leader
Some years ago while working for a large organisation, I was seconded to a project. The leader of this project, let’s call her Anna, was a genuine and warm-hearted person. She actually invited me to join the project having seen how frustrated I was in my substantive role. I had this sense, that she genuinely had my interest at heart. But what were the signs ?
- From our first conversation she always paid for our coffees.
- At Friday night drinks, she would often buy a round.
- She took the time to ask us how we were, actually listened to our answers, and remembered things that were important to us – such as footy teams, birthdays and family issues.
She also got a lot done and prosecuted the organisation’s agenda. Needless to say, she had the loyalty of everybody, especially myself. She did not need to ask us to work overtime – we just knew what needed to be done, and did it. She didn’t need to ask us to think long-term or think of the big picture or to collaborate – we just did that.
Contrast that with my regular position, where, though I still did my best (I was ambitious), I did not give it the same energy and care. It's hard too when you don't think your leader cares for you. What are you like with your followers? Do you inspire them? Do they think you care about them?
What About You?
The take-aways are:
- Are you the kind of leader you would want to follow?
- When choosing a leader – do you pick someone that followers would want to follow? Or just someone who upper management want?
What’s been your experience?
If you’d like some help to become a better leader, consider some coaching and/or mentoring. Cris runs a program on “Inspiring Leadership” including courage, innovation and change. To learn more of what the program entails send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at +61 438 545 607.