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How to Choose a Leader

Clearly, selecting the right leader is incredibly important for an organisation, and doing so can sometimes feel like weathering a heavy storm on open seas without a compass.

So if I can at least offer a compass, that might be the first step in offering some security and clarity in making this all-important decision.

Leading with Questions

A significant portion of my work is undertaken at senior executive level. In these forums, I have worked with Board Directors, CEOs, school principals and senior leadership teams. Some extremely wealthy multi nationals are represented alongside some of the smallest and most under resourced small business.

Over many years and many, many board room and executive discussions, I’ve seen patterns emerge. In particular, I’ve observed one approach to these discussions that separates the productive from the unproductive. That difference is the use of open versus closed questions.

Entitlement is Toxic to Culture

A culture of responsibility is one of learned aptitude. When leaders and their employees take responsibility, they prove to others and to themselves that they are capable; that obstacles can be overcome, and that actions lead to results.  Conversely, a culture of entitlement is one of learned helplessness. Entitlement is the belief that you are owed something, and that when you do not receive what you are supposedly owed, it is a failing of your leaders.

A culture of entitlement is a toxic one, because it teaches its members that complaining is the extent of their available responses to challenge and adversity.

Why it is Leadership that Matters, Not the Leader

A great leader must be many great things:

And so on.

But if these were enough, we wouldn’t still be having the constant, ever-evolving conversations crucial to the pursuit of great leadership.

Never Underestimate Our Nation's Young Minds

Even as children, we seem to innately understand that there is such a thing as strong leadershipand recognise it when we see it, even if we don’t yet have the language for it.

The next step, then, is to give our young people that language, and more importantly, it must be a language that they share with the adults in their lives. We as adults, and especially those who teach leadership, must respect our future leaders. For many of us, that extends to trusting them quite a bit more than we currently do.

The Badge of Busy-ness

Are you busy?

I would be very surprised to hear that you’re not. We’re all busy. It seems that now more than ever before we are a culture defined by just how much we need to do. We work incredibly long hours, and are expected to work overtime if we’re to move up the ladder, or move the needle in any meaningful way.

Be Strategic with Your Time and Energy

You need to avoid “lost causes” at all costs. There’s no way around this fact.

A “lost cause” is any relationship or endeavour that will not, under any circumstances, lead to productive outcomes. A lost cause is different to something that simply doesn’t work out.

You may negotiate for a deal and end up needing to walk away. You may have to let go of an employee who can’t keep up with their work or leave your own job because it’s no longer fulfilling. These are cases where you try, and things don’t pan out the way you’d like. That’s the price of doing difficult things.

A lost cause is one where you have no hope of a positive outcome, even by compromise, no matter how hard you try. These instances are crippling to yours and your organisation’s wellbeing and productivity. 

So how do you identify one, and what do you do about it?

Diversity and Unity

As a leader, you must understand the distinct difference between feeling different and feeling like you belong to a diverse group. One breaks down trust and the other builds it.

So long as the environment you create as a leader is safe, the most important thing you can bring to any team is competence. Ultimately, within the context of an organisation – a team with a specific, shared goal – being good at the thing you’re supposed to be good at is the most important part you can play.

As such, a productive leader will preference the right person for the job above all else. That person’s gender, sexual orientation, race, age or anything else shouldn’t matter when it comes to their position on the team. This, frankly, is easier said than done.

Be The Solution

In a previous blog, I argued that regularly asking yourself, am I part of the problem?  is one of the key responsibilities of a good leader. At the end of the piece, I noted that alongside the benefits of developing a habit of total personal accountability, recognising that you might be part of the problem at least means that you can also be part of the solution.

In this blog, I’ll explain how.

Hypocrisy is a Sign of Deeper Issues

Put simply, we should never expect anyone else to uphold a standard that we are not prepared to uphold ourselves. Though this seems logical enough, it gets much more complicated in an organisation, and especially a large one. Nobody in any organisation can do everything. A leader’s responsibilities will, by definition, be different to those of the other members of the team. Priorities will also be different: the leader of an organisation needs to spend their time working on strategy and culture, rather than directly on sales, for example.

But what can be dangerous is the belief that certain members of a team not only do different jobs, but should be held to different standards.

Pressure Makes Diamonds

“Work more” or “work harder” are solutions that only succeed up to a certain point, and most people have likely already reached that point.

So what is the sustainable solution? It seems self-evident that it would be to relieve the pressure. But again, this isn’t arbitrary – you mustn’t indiscriminately remove or decrease the forces of work until you don’t feel any pressure. For practical reasons, you can’t simply decide not to do your work, or not to take on new clients, or not to get things done in a timely manner.

Anything worth doing requires at least some pressure.

Am I Part of the Problem

Leadership, like life, is built on habits. An inspirational video, an enlightening speech or a great book can deliver a boost of energy, or a new way of seeing things, but they’re momentary; transient. No matter how powerful the insight, it ultimately means nothing if it isn’t translated to action, and the most important actions of a leader are performed regularly. Every day, in most cases.

One of the most crucial habits I’ve developed as a leader is something of a mental reframing technique. I’ve learned to ask myself, in every situation:

Am I part of the problem?

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