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Monday, February 15, 2010

Constant Communication is a Key to Effective Leadership

‘Whether you have a really small team or a really big team, communication needs to be at the forefront. It needs to be simple. It needs to be consistent. And even when you’re tired of what the message is, you need to do it again and again and again. Because everybody listens at different levels, and everybody comes to the table with a different perspective and a different experience. And the same words mean different things to different people. On some very key things, people need to internalise it, and they need to own it. And when they do, you’ll know that you’re effective as a leader, because you hear them saying it.’ 

Susan Docherty, General Motors


The Top 5 Deadly Sins for Leaders

1. Arrogance and insensitivity to others

Whether it’s yelling, screaming, and berating, or a more subtle approach to letting everyone else don’t they don’t matter, everybody can’t stand an arrogant leader.

2. Not listening

Not listening is another way of displaying arrogance and insensitivity, even if you don’t mean to be.

3. Manipulative

Getting things done by manipulating people shows a lack of authenticity and keeps people guessing what your true intentions are. It fosters a lack of trust.

4. Lack of integrity

Lying, cheating, blaming others for your mistakes – it only takes one mistake to ruin a reputation for life.

5. Selfishness

A “me first” approach, inability to collaborate or build a team, and unwillingness to collaborate.

If you’ve ever been told you display any of these traits, then do yourself and everyone around you a big favour – get some help!

The Most Effective Leaders Focus On Their People's Strengths

Strengths-Based Leadership is a book which is well worth reading. Why? For a start, on page 10 the authors assert that great historical leaders, such as Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi, have more differences than similarities and that it was the differences that defined them and made them great. Then, their basis for the book is decades of Gallup studies on this topic; the research firm's data includes more than 20000 in-depth interviews with senior leaders, studies of more than a million work teams, and 50 years of polls regarding the world's most admired leaders.

Three interesting findings emerge, which add to our insights into leadership.

The first of these is that the most effective leaders focus on their people's strengths, not their weaknesses. Gallup research shows that focusing on staff strength results in staff who are eight times more engaged in their work than those whose leaders focus on their weaknesses.

Some background is required on the "strengths" referred to in the title. Donald Clifton, an educational psychologist, developed the Clifton Strengths Finder, a measure of personal talent that identifies the areas in which an individual has the greatest potential for growth.

In the last years of his life, Clifton was asked what he had discovered from his 30 years of leadership research. His answer was that a leader needed to know his strengths as a carpenter needed to know his or her tools, so he or she could use the right one at the right time. This, he concluded, was probably all that leaders could be said to have in common. If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. Being "well rounded" inadvertently breeds mediocrity, and in the area of leadership this is no less true. While the best leaders are not well rounded, the best teams are.

This brings us to the second finding, that the most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people. Think of the team in which you work; the chances are high that members were not recruited because of their complimentary differences. This is as true at entry level as it is at board level. The leader, unaware of the issue of strengths, is most likely to surround himself with people who agree with him and who have similar backgrounds and personalities. A company like this will not grow, adapt or change, and this has been verified by Gallup research on thousands of executive teams.

There are 34 themes in the Strengths Finder model and they cluster about four domains of leadership strength: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. A leader who is strong at influencing may well be strong in very different ways, using very different strengths, compared to another fine leader also strong in the general domain of influencing. This is because each of the four domains has eight or nine themes and great leaders appear to be strongest only in four or five of these. Where they are not strong, they will call on team members to supplement, resulting in a work group that works.

The third finding to emerge is that the most effective leaders understand their followers' needs. Most of the research conducted in the field of leadership has focused on leaders to the exclusion of followers - an oddity if you consider that you cannot be a leader if no one wants to follow you. One could argue that studying the impact of the leaders should be good enough: did they consistently produce great results in the classroom, boardroom or operating room? But, as Peter Drucker notes, the leaders who made the greatest impact on the 20th century were Hitler, Stalin and Mao and "if that's leadership, I want no part of it".

To explore why people follow, Gallup conducted a formal study of 10000 followers between 2005 and 2008. The questions were very simply and very clever. What leader has the most positive influence in your daily life? (Pause here and answer this for yourself.) Now identify three words that best describe what that person contributes to your life. (Pause again.) What emerged from their research was trust, compassion, stability and hope (or words to that effect.) These concepts deserve reflection: to know I can trust you, that you treat me like a fellow human, that you assure my present and show me the way to a future.

There is much to ponder in this book.