I get a lot of questions around this subject of leadership and leadership skills.
How does one develop leadership skills? Are leaders born or developed? What do I need to do to become a better teamleader? I have colletede the over the years – I have over 300 variant of this question. What are way that i can develop my leadership skills
Despite the fact that there are thousands of books on this and masses of courses one can dive into this question comes up again and again.
So this is how I think about it
Or if you prefer to read about leadership skills…
To understand what leadership is, we need to look at the concept of followership. There is no leadership if there is no followership. The followers define the leader.
I love this old joke:
A leader without followers is just a guy out for a walk. ( or a girl).
If you’re not able to generate followership, you are not a leader, period.
So what does it take to generate followership?
The essence of generating followership is the ability to build trust. If you’re not able to build trust with the people around you, you don’t have a chance. There is no followership. They may pay lip service to what you say and ask, but there’s no true engagement or genuine followership.
Let’s examine some of the elements that make up trust?
Where are we going ?
The notion of leadership, first of all, implies that we are going some place. It is implicitly understod that you are leading me towards something. So where are we going? Can you explain to me the direction that we’re going and why we need to go there? If you can’t tell me where we’re going and why we need to go there, why on earth would I choose to follow you?
We can have the big grandiose visions, missions, whatever you want to call them. John F. Kennedy famously said “Put a man on the moon”. Martin Luther King roared : “ I have a dream !”
What do you as a team leader see for your team as a future? Where do you want to take this team? What will be your legacy?. Do you want to be the best customer service team in the organisation? Do you want to be known as the team that was innovative and brought new solutions to your customers? What is it? What is it that you’re trying to do? What is going to be different because of your leadership?
Peter Drucker wrote : What manager mange is change – the rest is admin
If it’s just about maintaining status quo, staying put, then we don’t need a leader, do we? We just need a custodian. Somebody to tally the time sheets and make sure nobody steals the furniture. There’s no need for leadership.
Will I be safe?
When we’ve established that we are going somewhere exciting, then the next thought that comes to me as your team member is am I going to be safe? Is it safe for me to follow you?
That safety comes on two basic levels. Is it physically safe? Are we going to do something dangerous that could put me in danger? In most companies we’re not going to climb Mount Everest or something like that, but there are lots of teams that do all sorts of dangerous stuff. So they need to trust that the team leader will keep them safe.
The other aspect which is much more crucial in corporations and organisations is am I going to be emotionally safe? Am I going to feel okay being on this team? Am I going to be worried that you’re suddenly going to scream and shout at me? Am I going to be worried that if I make a mistake, every one will ridicule me? Am I going to feel accepted by the others? Is it going to be okay to voice my opinion? Is it going to be okay to be me? Am I going to fit in?
Your job is to provide safety
These are important aspects that you as a leader have to find out how to accommodate. How do you make everybody feel safe physically and emotionally? It’s your responsibility.
It’s the classic trade off that goes right back to when we hunted in small groups on the great plains. We accept that somebody in the group is a leader and that being the leader comes with some perks? (First choice of females or food etc back in those days – now, the leader may just get the better office chair ;-) )
None the less, the trade off is that I accept you as my leader if you protect me. That’s the basic deal.
Will your see me?
If I’m going on this trip with you as my leader, will you see me or will I just be one more insignificant cog in the machinery? When I talk to you are you going to be on your iPhone half the time trying to do something else? Or are you truly going to see me, when we interact with each other?
Will I learn and grow?
Am I going to develop myself? Or is this project mainly about you as the team leader and how you are going to further your career? Is it our project or your project. Will you as my leadertake the time and create the space for me to improve myself.
Will I be allowed to contribute?
Will you as my team leader recognize that I have a contribution to make and will I be allowed to make that contribution? Will I be allowed to do what I’m best at?
So if I’m going to be allowed to contribute, learn and develop , it means that you as a leader are going to have to take some risks. I might make mistakes, I might screw up, I might make you look stupid. That’s the risk that you’re going to have to take. And when I do that, will you protect me despite the fact that I screwed up?
These are the key leadership skills that you need to work on if your want to build real followership.
- Where are we going?
- Will I feel safe?
- Will you see me?
- Will I learn and grow?
- Will I be able to contribute?
And they all boil down to one thing:
Can I trust you?
How can you work on and develops the key leaderships skills?
You cannot learn to be a leader by reading a book. The same way that you can’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book, you need to do something and then you need to notice the feedback that you get. What happens when I do it? Are people taking chances? Are they contributing? Are they engaged? What is actually happening on my team?
Do I need to do something differently?
Sometimes it is really helpful to have somebody to discuss and develop some of these reflections with. That’s what one can use a coach for.
I hope this was a helpful. I’d love to hear your comments, ideas, feedback, anything you have to add, I am alway thrilled to engage with the people who read my blog and who also have a passion for Leadership .
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