Over the past few weeks, particularly during this Covid-19 pandemic, I have reflected a lot on leadership and where the strength of leaders lie. How is leadership strength demonstrated, regardless of the times, Is leadership about how much and what one says or does? Is it about analytics, spreadsheets, and meetings? Is it about giving directions, instructions and receiving applause or it is merely a popularity contest?
What makes one a leader? Is one a leader just because he has followers? Are you a leader just because you happen to be in the corporate setting, risen through the ranks and over the years, have been promoted to occupy a senior role? Has your leadership, been as a result of political manoeuvrings? Are you a leader because it just happened without you asking to be? Or you actually asked for it and prepared accordingly?
Whatever the case may be, it is imperative and expected that leaders and good ones for that matter, live according to some irrefutable standards and make the necessary positive impact on people, the community and world at large.
Leadership comes with great responsibility, however, one can create a good and lasting legacy if done right. The strength of a leader is demonstrated at all times.
There have been several definitions of leadership by various scholars, however, the one that resonates very well with me is that of John Maxwell, the leadership expert. “Leadership is influence”.
The ability to influence is essential and implies having a positive impact on behaviour, attitudes, opinions, and choices of others. This influence must be positive and not a power play if it is to yield the right results.
The strength of a good and inspiring leader can be realised in their ability to make a difference in the
lives of others. Thus, it is important that every leader leads not only from the head but also the heart. The ability to create a good balance between the head and heart with regards to leadership is what portrays the strength and resilience of a person.
Strong and effective leaders, who lead from the heart, are inclined to demonstrate some of these behaviours that I have experienced throughout my career and life, which I will like to share with you in this article.
Their strength lies in the following:
Being “Present” when people engage with them.
Being present is not only in body (physically), but it is the deliberate ability to pay attention and connect emotionally with people without being distracted or losing focus, for example, rattling away on the computer when in a discussion or fidgeting with one’s phone in the middle of a discussion, whether, in the boardroom, church and other meetings are definitely being absent. Being present indicates interest and respect for the leader’s audience. When you show interest in people and listen to them attentively, you tend to build trust with them. Once trust is built, people will literally eat out of your palm.
Ability to be open and honest.
They communicate their thoughts and decisions effectively, truthfully in simple and plain language without ambiguity. They demonstrate the ability to say “yes’ or “no” to issues, without beating about the bush. Their decisions are backed by conviction and sound principles which can be easily verified.
Showing appreciation publicly or privately for good or excellent work done.
The strength to recognise and acknowledge good work through a pat on the back, a written note, a token or just a simple “thank you” is very much appreciated and wins the heart of people. The tendency to gloss over excellence is a sign of weakness on the part of a leader. Everyone likes to be appreciated for their good works.
Strategically set followers or team members up for success.
“Leaders grow leaders”, and this must be done deliberately without fear or apprehension. There is a Ghanaian proverb that literally translates as “A crab does not beget a bird” which implies that we replicate our kind. The strength lies in the ability to identify good talent, coach, and inspire them for success. “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets other people to do the greatest things” –Ronald Reagan.
Courage to give candid feedback.
“Courageous conversations” by the very nature of the phrase are very difficult to have. However, it is essential for growth and adds value to people. Feedback is a treasure, and though it may or may not be pleasant at the time, a leader is seen as authentic when he or she is able to execute such conversations effectively. It is important during feedback sessions for leaders to offer the necessary support for improvement. When this is done appropriately, and in good timing, there is no element of surprise at the end of the day.
Accept feedback from others.
Leaders demonstrate strength when they are ready, willing and able to listen and accept feedback from others. Some leaders tend to be excited to surround themselves with people who always sing their praises and do not have the courage to criticise their actions. Such people are known as “yes men and women”. A leader who does not listen is weak and can be likened to the story of the emperor with no clothes. Strong leaders are not afraid to open themselves up for feedback and criticism, and therefore people are comfortable to give them feedback. They pick up the relevant aspects of the feedback received and act accordingly by working on the areas requiring improvement. This makes them better people.
Commitment to life-long learning
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” -John F. Kennedy. Growth and sustainability of every leader is dependent on consistent and continuous learning. Learning in the form of classroom training, digital learning, seminars, conferences and reading, among other solutions, help to keep abreast with global trends and makes a leader knowledgeable. Acknowledging the fact that “leaders do not know it all” and therefore, the need for consistent learning, enriches one’s leadership style demonstrates maturity and enhances growth. The matured leaders are the ones who learn, unlearn, and relearn for growth.
Transformational leaders demonstrate their strength when they lead with a heart. They build strong relationships, value emotional connectedness, recognise and reward excellence, respect and care for their teams and commit to life-long learning. Consequently, and all things being equal, teams are willing and collaborate more with such leaders to achieve set goals. To succeed in the “New Normal,” I recommend that leaders continuously re-examine themselves and seek candid feedback from accountability partners to ascertain their effectiveness. This will enable them to make a positive impact on lives, their communities and ensure the competitive survival of their organisations.
Amma Korantema Ansah