3 Reasons Why I’m Passionate About Leadership

I was recently asked to write 300 words on “Why I’m Passionate About Leadership” I think passion is an overused word just now, especially in the sales and marketing arena. However, having spent 25 years studying it and working in the field of leading and managing people, yes I really am passionate about it. Here are just 3 of the reasons why.

Because it’s vital

Successful companies are moving quickly to build efficiency and effectiveness by becoming flatter, matrix organisations where information flows in all directions. People are increasingly working in cross–functional, diverse and geographically dispersed teams.

Leadership is vital in supporting this new way of working. The ability to build strong trusting relationships quickly, and work collaboratively, encourages the responsiveness, flexibility and creativity that is fundamental to the success of today’s companies.

Because there is a lack of it

Evidence suggests there’s a lack of leadership in our organisations at a time when there is a growing need for it. As organisations constantly search for ways to get more from their staff, in less time, with fewer resources, staff are more likely to feel dis-engaged, de-motivated and cynical.

Leaders who can create a compelling vision of a better future, and inspire staff to fully commit to realising that vision, will be the ones raising the bar on performance at an individual, team and organisational level.

Because I can influence it and make a difference

Everything I’ve done in my 30 year career has been related to developing people to bring out the best in themselves and others. Whether as a social worker, counsellor, Royal Naval officer, middle and senior manager, leadership and management trainer or executive coach, I’ve worked to help to help people improve their relationship and communication skills. I’m committed to my own lifelong learning and to the learning and development of others. For me, leaders are learners and leadership development that creates sustainable results involves helping people squeeze the most learning from their real world developmental experiences.

The ripple effect of working with leaders in key positions means I can make the biggest positive impact on performance and well-being for them, their staff and their organisation.

  • Do you believe leadership is vital? If so why?
  • Is it in short supply?
  • What are you doing to develop effective leadership in yourself or others?

Lessons in Leadership

My 15 year old son Jack has just been permanently excluded from school. I never thought I would feel okay about that, let alone share it with the world. I am doing it because I admire the head teacher who has guided us through a potentially very negative experience in a positive way and I want to explore the leadership lessons here.

Jack has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He’s a bright, articulate, likeable and entertaining boy who can charm the birds out of the trees. He is also disruptive, impulsive and aggressive, which, at well over 6ft tall, can be seriously intimidating.

“Mr X. He’s a legend”

So what did this Head teacher do that resulted in me being so appreciative of his support and Jack calling him “a legend” and swearing never to hear a word said against him?

  1. He created a culture at the school where the teachers’ remained positive about Jack and didn’t lose sight of his ADHD. That’s no mean feat. If he had a broken leg everyone would remember and keep it in mind. With ADHD it’s easy to forget and judge him as purely badly behaved.
  2. As the situation escalated he took a personal interest in Jack and for many weeks, saw him every day, to go through his targets and report card. A major commitment for a head teacher.
  3. He was always clear and succinct about expectations and targets, ensured Jack had understood these, and involved both Jack and me every step of the way.
  4. When it became clear that the strategies weren’t changing anything, he was able to step back, and consider the best options for everyone. Jack now has a permanent place at a specialist unit with an almost one to one teacher – student ratio, which will serve Jack’s needs better. The Head didn’t let pride or ego get in the way, even though he said he felt he’d failed Jack in some ways
  5. Finally, and from our perspective, most importantly, he visited us at home to finish his current contact with Jack on a positive note. He again emphasised all Jacks strengths and what he had enjoyed about having him in school. He then gave him a nicely wrapped present of a pen, and explained what it meant about communication, believing in himself and staying in touch.

I don’t know what Jack will make of his life but I do know that this was a significant moment that he’ll always remember. It speaks volumes that the man who made some really tough decisions over the last couple of years, decisions that made Jack really angry at times, has built such a good relationship that Jack is in no doubt about the fairness, and commitment with which he’s been treated.

My questions to you are:

  • How are you building that level of respect within your team?
  • How do you maintain good relationships whilst dealing with tough decisions and situations?

Do you have the courage to stand up and be counted?

Journalists are definitely not flavour of the month here in the UK, and Johann Hari has made errors of judgement himself recently (though nothing to do with phone hacking.) However, when I saw him give this talk on 5th July, I felt compelled to share it with you as an impressive example of outstanding leadership and effective communication.

Leaders know what they stand for and aren’t afraid to stand up for it. Johann Hari makes a compelling case for freedom of speech particularly in the face of religious fundamentalism, and delivers it with courage and passion.

He also demonstrates another key leadership skill. He is not afraid to share his vulnerability by owning up to mistakes and errors of judgement even though it’s uncomfortable.

With phone hacking, super-injunctions, and twitter privacy all hitting the headlines recently this speech is particularly pertinent. I urge you to pay attention to both the content and the process and note what it evokes in you. It’s 15 mins long so take a break, grab a coffee and prepare to be moved.

If it speaks to your heart, what is it about the way Hari delivers his message that works for you? If it evokes a different reaction, why is that? What can you learn from this that will help you communicate with passion and influence in the future? I’d love to hear your comments.

Engineers are useless at business!

In a recent episode of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar said “I’ve never met an engineer that was any good at business.” Let me tell you, I’ve worked with many engineers as a leadership and management specialist, and I know different.

Engineers can make excellent managers, who produce good business results; they just need to be shown how. They’re usually bright, open to learning, work well with the right processes and aren’t afraid to experiment and adjust until they get it right. All the same qualities that makes them good engineers.

Whether you believe your engineers were born with those qualities or not, they still needed to be taught the technical skills and given the chance to practice them on the job.

My management development programmes provide the same kinds of learning opportunities and I structure them to suit how engineers prefer to learn.

How are you supporting your managers to increase profits, performance and productivity?

If you’d like to know how I can help, please email me at info@jkld.co.uk

Grasping the Nettle of Problem Performance or Behaviour

I have been listening to a number of managers recently who are feeling frustrated by colleagues and staff who aren’t doing what they should be doing or are behaving in ways that the manager finds unacceptable.

What really stands out for me is how much time and energy is being spent on these issues. The “problem” person is being discussed with numerous people, being thought about an inordinate amount of time, and is causing stress and frustration left right and centre.

In most cases, the “problem” person isn’t even aware there’s a problem. The manager is talking to everyone except the person involved.

It’s similar to driving along a road when someone suddenly zooms past and cuts you up. You are furious. “How dare they!” “They shouldn’t be allowed on the road!” etc. You complain to whoever will listen, about the injustice of it all. You might even feel angry long after the event, whenever you think about it. Meanwhile the driver is oblivious to what they’ve done and the impact they’ve had on you.

The difference is, with colleagues at work you have the opportunity to address it. In fact, you have a professional responsibility to do so. If someone is under performing in terms of results, or behaviours, they need to be made aware of it and given the opportunity and support to put it right.

I don’t believe anyone sets out to be a poor performer. If they are falling short, there are numerous possible reasons for it. The most common ones are:

  • They don’t know what to do
  • They don’t know how to do it
  • They don’t know why they should do it
  • They think they are doing it

So, the next time you’re feeling frustrated by the actions or inaction of someone at work, just stop and think about why this might be happening. What could be getting in the way? Then go and have a frank conversation with them to discuss:

  1. Specifically what they are doing or not doing that isn’t working for you
  2. How their actions are impacting you, others or the task
  3. What you need them to do differently
  4. How they are going to achieve that, and what support they need

Just think, if someone at work was talking to everyone except you about an aspect of your work that they found unacceptable, would you rather they talk to you, or to everyone but you?

Is it time to grasp the nettle? You’ll need to make the first move.

3 Ways to Manage Your Boss and Stay Sane

Be honest, have you moaned about your boss today? this week? or this month? Many of us do, and some with good cause. The fact remains though; you need your boss more than your boss needs you. If you are in a difficult relationship with your boss you only really have two choices a) learn how to make it work as well as possible or b) leave.

Before you pack up your desk and shout “I’m out of here!” just remember, it’s a tough market out there, and bear in mind, your boss will insist he or she had to let you go because you just weren’t cutting the mustard.

So you decide to stay. What can you do?

Manage expectations

As you progress up the organisation your boss is less likely to be able to accurately manage and measure your workload and outputs, so may just keep piling on the work until you finally buckle. That’s why you need to be really clear about what you can do, and by when, even if you dread having that potentially difficult conversation. When you agree expectations early, and revisit them often, it will save you from the even more difficult conversations when you are consistently failing to deliver results within the set deadlines.

Enlist the support of others

Identify and build strong relationships with other senior managers and influencers in the organisation. They may be people who seem to deal well with your boss, who you can learn from or ask advice. They may even be in a position to have a word directly with your boss, but only once you have won their trust and are not seen as a whinger or manipulator. If all else fails they may be a safety net that allows you to change department and work for them in the future.

Manage yourself

Be aware that you are communicating every second of every day, even when you aren’t speaking. Make sure the message you are communicating is a positive one. When you show you are anxious, angry or stressed it can be detrimental to your credibility as a leader, has a bad effect on your health and well-being and will undermine the performance of your team, which in turn leads to more problems with the boss. Do whatever it takes to get support for yourself, stay positive and energised in your interactions, and supportive of your team.

What strategies have you used to manage upwards?