In this day and age, leadership is more needed than ever. But we also have less time than ever to develop the necessary leadership skills. And if we are to develop the skill of leadership either within ourselves or among others, then where do we start?
Every article, every book, every seminar, every workshop, every course on leadership focuses on a different element of leadership. Attempting to work through all of the material available can make leadership seem more complex than it is.
We also need to recognise that the system leaders operate in these days is vastly different from the system their prevailed in the past. With an increase in access to information and connections it is easier than ever to do business, to do good ... and to do bad.
The argument is therefore if we want more leaders we have to go back to the basics. We have to look at how do we rewire leadership so that when we plug it into a system that is founded in solid legislation and guided by sound corporate governance it just works.
When we strip back the trimmings - the protective covering of complexity - of leadership and we have a look at the core of what leadership truly is, we find that leadership has five wires:
Moving. Somewhere. While. Others. Follow.
Each of these wires (words) have certain elements that we need to get right.
Leadership requires a drive to move; to not be satisfied by the way things are just because they've always been that way. Leaders drive by keeping an eye on advancements and making adjustments to products, processes and people as the journey and conditions change.
This drive needs to be sustained with discipline that carries through even the toughest of times. It also needs to be at a pace that balances the urgency of the leader with the capabilities of the followers. Too slow and you risk getting to the intended somewhere when it is too late. Too fast and not everyone will end up at the intended "somewhere".
When setting a vision of where to move, change for the sake of change is not the focus. A leader should be crystal clear on why the vision - or "somewhere" - was chosen. They should be very clear on what the intended objective looks like, what it feels like to operate there and how to recognise once the objective has been reached.
How to reach the objective should however remain flexible as leaders must develop the skills to remain relevant to the shifting future. With new ways of doing business and new generations driving societal changes both the "somewhere" and the "how to get there" might need regular tweaks.
Too many wait until they receive an appointment - a specific job title, accolade, societal position etc - to act as leaders do.
Leadership is not dependent on appointment but on decision.
We each have an opportunity to lead - ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues - and we can only step into that opportunity once we decide to lead.
Once leaders decide to move, they recognise that they need to start taking the first steps immediately. Too often leaders wait for elusive perfect conditions rather than taking necessary bold steps.
Contrary to habits drilled in by schooling systems and corporate cultures that hail from centuries ago, these steps should be uncertain and sometimes even imperfect.
Leaders that have learned the skill to master uncertainty and value progress as highly as perfection are the ones that often lead with more success and with higher quality followers.
A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk. That doesn't mean that leaders should scramble to gather a huge number of followers. Here it is more about quality than quantity.
High quality followers are essential to leading successful efforts. These followers manage to maintain a balance between taking initiative, staying within the guidelines and moving towards the vision set by the leader.
Low quality followers demand - sometimes passive aggressively - special time and attention before they reluctantly do the bare minimum. They often resist or disrupt progress because they are signed up for their own comfort rather than the vision set by the leader.
Leaders should guard against spend so much time and effort leading low quality followers that it is to the detriment of high quality followers.
Leaders should also become experts in following others. Sometimes we learn best through a combination of observation and experience. By following others, leaders will experience the frustrations resulting from poor leadership, as well as the inspiration resulting from great leadership.
The final question you then have to ask yourself as you rewire leadership is:
Where will you lead those who are ready to follow?
This topic was delivered as a keynote speech for: