I like cooking: I love the whole process of sorting the basic ingredients, assembling it all together and then wait for the final product – sometimes it needs adjusting or further cooking. When I think of leadership I often think of cooking, even though I know this may sound strange. I think of how leadership does not need to be a complicated process, with complicated words, but is very much about starting with the basic ingredients (i.e. skills) and then embarking on a continuous development journey.
I have spent large part of my career working in executive search, both in agency and in-house. Through this I have been interviewing different leaders across the globe, at different points in their careers, and listening to their career stories – some more exciting than others. Organisations often look for the candidate with the most “ticked” boxes in their profile, the one that have done it all before; Have experience leading a similar size team, organisation with a similar culture, similar industry, and so on. In my opinion, the best leaders are not always the ones that “tick” all the boxes.
Most senior leadership roles are not individual contributors, but people leaders. The reality is that not all leaders enjoy managing a team. Not that long ago I interviewed a leader, who first told me how successful he was and how much experience he had with large teams. Later on in the conversation he tells me that “as soon as you have people to manage, it all gets a lot more complicated”. This was an immediate “red flag” in my eyes, and an example of someone who would most probably fail to inspire trust in a team leader role, and ultimately fail to inspire the team to deliver. Instead he would be better suited for a senior role with no team to lead. Let`s look at the key aspects of leadership and leading people.
Earn respect and trust
Being able to earn the respect of your team, seeing your team as your most valuable resource and key to success is an important skill to have for a leader. Probably many of us can relate to a time in our career when we had a leader that used the word “trust” often, yet information sharing was limited, future plans largely unknown and trust among the team inexistent. In other words, you didn’t trust your leader. That results in not feeling inspired to do your best work, to perform at your very best, to not having a purpose. Leading “by force” rarely succeeds.
Listen and show empathy
The job of a leader is not to tell people what to do, a leader should think of what you can do for your team. Show empathy, listen to your team, let them know that you can connect with each one of them as an individual human being. Learn to say “we” instead of “I”. As Stephen Covey once said, “Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves”.
Stand by your team and take accountability
When it comes to potential, make sure that as a leader you hire people smarter than you. Smart people deliver better results, they will allow you to make better decisions that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own and will ultimately lead to business growth. Bring smart people into your team, give them opportunities to grow, unite them into a common purpose, and they will deliver their best work. When times are tough, stand by your team, lead them to success and make the hard choices. If mistakes take place, be accountable, admit to it, learn, and move on. Do not blame or point fingers, instead use it as an opportunity to learn. Leadership is as much about leading people as it is about taking chances, making choices that move the business forward and create job opportunities.
Keep learning and articulate a vision
The other key skill I look for is the potential to grow, and the understanding and acceptance that just like a career is a journey, the same goes for a leader. Irrespective of how many years’ experience a leader may have, how large or small teams he or she may have led, change is part of life and business. With change comes a need to continue to learn, listen, and to develop oneself.
Finally a good leader needs to be able to clearly articulate a vision, tell it in a way which makes everyone connect to it, be inspired by it, and think of it as reality. Make it simple, help the team understand how their contribution can make a difference, turn work into one common goal, and make it fun.
Cook it up
Then start the cooking: define the end, what do you need your leaders to achieve? What skills do they have and what skills need developing? Identify the results you want to achieve, then work on creating opportunities for your leaders to learn and practice the skills they need to develop. Allow them enough time to use and test their learning, continue to support them through the journey, and finally measure the results and business impact.
So next time you are recruiting a leader or assessing someone’s leadership capabilities, look beyond the “tick boxes” and the final product. Instead, think of respect, empathy, listening, articulating a vision, taking accountability and above all a desire to keep learning, as the basic skills you need you leaders to have, and then get to work on developing them further.
About the author:
Sandra Patricio is a passionate leadership developer with solid understanding and knowledge of working across various cultures in large corporations. Throughout her career in HR, Sandra had the opportunity to work with various executives, helping them unlock and develop their own leadership potential and experience. Sandra is a native Portuguese, currently based in the UK, and she is fluent in 5 European languages.