Let’s Talk About…Leadership

In a Leadership-obsessed world, it’s worth reminding ourselves what it’s really all about, says Davina Greene.

Davina Greene is The Personal Strategy Coach – a coach, trainer, and People consultant based in Dublin, Ireland. This column was first published in Irish Tatler magazine. 

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Leadership, leadership, leadership. You can barely escape the word nowadays. So many employees want to be “on the leadership track”. Politicians and business managers proclaim themselves leaders when, actually, they’re simply in a default position of power and have not been chosen in any convincing sense by those they oversee. That is to say, they have few active followers.

Leadership, for me, is pretty much a synonym for “influence” (as opposed to “power”), and boils down to two simple questions. Firstly, do you have a strong vision to offer, and a strategy for getting there? Secondly, do you seem like a well-rounded, decent human being? If yes to both, I may choose to engage with you. May.

To me, a strong combination of both is necessary. Plenty of visionary innovators have become well-known, the stories of their deficient human skills only uncovered much later – some sort of “awe” resulting from being in a game-changer’s presence can temporarily compensate for poor treatment, it seems. Conversely, plenty of “lovely people” have been given managerial positions but have never looked beyond maintaining the status quo – never inspiring, never aiming for new peaks.

We know what Vision is, we know what Strategy is. So, what constitutes a well-rounded, decent human being? After being embedded in behavioural language for almost 20 years, and spending many years listening to people’s workplace (and other) woes, I summarise it under five key areas, all of which are as relevant to a parent leading a family, a politician leading a country, a volunteer leading in a community setting, as to a senior manager leading a company:

Resilience: Are you mentally strong? When things go off-course, will your (intended) followers be inspired by a strong, unflappable individual, alarmed by someone who seems broken, or something in between?

Perspective: Do you think only in black-and-white, or can you see the grey area? Can you only operate if you control every detail hands-on? Is your world big, or a small world in which the slightest change of detail seems overwhelming?

Humanity: Do you treat people kindly, like human beings, or are people just ‘tools’ that you use? How’s your ego? Are you empathetic? Regardless of what you think or want, do you have self-control?

Responsibility: When something goes wrong, do you stick around to resolve the situation, or do you blame-and-run? Can you make good decisions? Where you involve – or create – other human beings as part of your vision, do you take at least some ownership of their behaviour (teaching, coaching, feedback, boundaries)?

Communication: Do you explain the Vision clearly, do people know what you need from them? Do you bark at everyone in the same way, or adjust your message based on your audience’s needs? Are you flexible or can only engage with, and inspire, one type of person?

I strongly believe that a person can display real signs of leadership in one area, whilst seeming completely uninspiring in another. The most uninspiring manager in a bank can be a true leader in a local sports club setting, for example. The difference? Passion. Interest. Be under no illusions, there are better, more natural leaders in some homes and communities than there are in some companies that spend tens of thousands trying to turn managers into leaders every year.

When I teach Leadership, we contemplate the well-known Goffee & Jones question “Why should anyone be led by you?”. If you are interested in Leadership, try writing at least a few bullet points on that – as above, you may see that your skills are more alive in one environment than another. Above all, remember that unless you’re doing something truly game-changing, the chances of strong technical skill removing a need for strong human skill lie somewhere between slim and zero!

Key points

  1. You are a true leader if you have active followers who listen to and value you.
  2. Leadership requires Vision combined with an ability to engage well with a wide range of people
  3. To analyse your Leadership potential, consider what you offer to potential followers.
  4. Leadership skills can be taught, but authenticity is always detectable and far more effective.