By Goke Ilesanmi
Leadership is developed not discovered. The truly-born leader will always emerge, but to stay on top, natural leadership characteristics must be developed. It is leadership that allows for innovation. Leadership results in well-run organisations that are known for efficiency and profitability.
Great leaders communicate their vision with passion, but they do not pretend to have all the answers. They also encourage and empower their followers to contribute to conversations without their feeling embarrassed or intimidated. What do conversations have to do with leadership success, you may wonder? They have a lot. Gayle Lantz, co-author of “Irresistible Leadership” and specialist in leadership and career issues, says, “Managers who lack opportunities to listen, really listen, to the issues expressed by team members, can create opportunities through regular conversations. The occasional ‘How’s it going?’ is not enough. A fresh approach is needed to engage the individual.”
Having regular conversations will go a long way in establishing trust and building healthy relationships between a leader and his followers. Informal meetings typically last half an hour or so and they allow leaders to stay on top of important issues, to be more attuned to the needs of individuals and offer necessary support. As a leader, your time is limited, so make the most of it. Being clear about the objective of the conversation will help to keep the discussion on track. Remember what may be an important issue to a team member may be less so to you. However, the individual may need your support working through that issue to focus on more important goals.
Creation and articulation of vision
The first of the secrets of becoming a great leader is to create a vision. The best leaders not only assign tasks or monitor performance. They plan for the future and motivate others to see the same vision so that they can all thrive to accomplish that vision. Ara Norwood, managing partner at Leadership Development Systems, a firm that specialises in educating today’s leaders and building tomorrow’s says leaders should articulate their vision with zeal.
“The followers involved in the conversation should be clear that the leader maintains very deep feelings of excitement, commitment, belief – even a sense of urgency and determination about the vision in question,” stresses Norwood. The leader who converses with intensity about his or her vision tends to inspire followers who adopt his or her vision as their own and voluntarily sign on to see the vision to reality.
A leader must hold conversations around the vision often and with regularity. If he or she fails to discuss the vision frequently, followers may get the feeling that he or she has lost sight of the vision, or no longer has the zeal to pursue it. Either option will kill results and damage the leader’s credibility.
Apart from articulating their vision, great leaders also communicate their mission statement. They know exactly what the mission is and understand its importance to the people they lead. Most importantly, they communicate the mission statement to their followers at meetings, coaching and feedback sessions, etc. Their actions are related to accomplishing the goals of the mission statement.
It is noteworthy that a conversation is not a monologue. Therefore, leaders who engage in a leadership conversation do not, by definition, do all of the talking. They must engage their fellow conversationalists. This is not always easy, nor is it always natural for subordinates, who may be afraid to speak their mind.
Research shows that there are several strategies leaders can employ to empower their followers to contribute candidly to the conversation. For illustration, strategies employed by Rodney Browne as CEO at Sterling Supplies, a good manufacturer in the medical supplies industry come to mind here. Sterling Supplies had enjoyed enormous growth and profitability for many years but later started to see some of their competitive edge taper off due to a variety of factors, including tougher competition, and the inability of its management team to grow at the same pace as the company.
Browne did a number of things to turn the company around and get people back on track. He assured his company that while he brought much to the table, he did not pretend to have all of the answers and thus, he valued their perspectives. Browne encouraged them to share their candid views, even if those views were not an exact replica of his own.
Wherever possible, he shared stories of others who had contributed to the conversation in the recent past and explained how this effort had benefited the quality of the organisation as a whole. As followers offered their suggestions however tentative, Browne demonstrated a true spirit of inquiry and interest. He had an engaging smile and did not hide it. He simply appeared interested and curious.
Browne encouraged people to continue whenever their thoughts seemed to taper off. He asked earnest and non-threatening clarification questions. He also complimented others for the contributions they made to the conversation, and he did it sincerely. Browne also had a habit of summarising any contributions to the conversation others offered by restating the essence of what they said, and then taking those comments to the next level by adding the positive implications of their ideas, and how their ideas would likely play out over time.
For instance, he would say things such as, “So you feel certain that jump-starting our recruiting efforts with a professional recruiter would be the right direction. That sounds like a promising approach. I guess if we added a professional recruiter and a list of specific qualities we are looking for in new recruits, perhaps with some sort of written assessment to the recruiting process, this might result in just the right mix of checks and balances. Good! Thank you for that input.”
Finally, Browne spoke about a new vision of what the company could become. He did this in many, many conversations, formal and informal. The vision he articulated was clear, simple and powerful. People enjoyed coming to work at Sterling Supplies again, and many of them claimed to have a sense of renewal and purpose they had never felt in years.
As a leader, you need to communicate your vision and mission with passion and consistency and seek contributions from your followers in a spirit of mutual respect so that you can achieve appreciable results.
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GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.
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