How to develop great leaders

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46Some managers make excellent leaders, but many never really make the grade. Managers may be brilliant planners and organisers, or good with budgets and resources. They may be great tacticians, but if they lack the basic ability to engage their employees none of these attributes will make them a great leader. We want leaders that inspire and encourage us, give us stretch challenges and above all set a clear direction, and this requires plenty of eye contact and engaging conversation. One fundamental reason why some managers don’t make the grade can be traced back to their development path and is to do with a deep foundational strength found in effective leaders – courage.

I’m not talking about the courage to parachute out of a plane, or to pitch up in the C suite, rather a more subtle courage to display humility, and to accept they still have plenty to learn. Also the courage to ask for and assimilate feedback about their own behaviour from the whole 360 spectrum, and of course the courage to act upon that feedback.

I met a CEO of a tech firm some years back who was an extreme skier. No lack of courage there, but he confided in me that walking into a room full of people he didn’t know would strike in him a fear so strong it took away his ability to speak coherently.

There are a number of irrational fears that managers need to overcome if they are to become great leaders, the first being the fear of socialising, a second is the fear of presenting. All great leaders need to be able to speak with passion and conviction, to any audience, at any time, without preparation, otherwise it’s an obligation and no leader ever became great through merely fulfilling an obligation.

Why is courage important?

I spoke with someone recently who told me he went to a 3-day leadership seminar and sat at the back so he wouldn’t be volunteered for anything. What’s that about? Not enough courage to get involved? I wonder sometimes whether some managers know what being a leader means in terms of their own behaviour.

Unless you want employees who never ask questions, are afraid to ask for help, and bludgeon on independently rarely thinking about team working, then a leader needs to role model positive behaviours. People copy what they see their leaders doing; this is how cultures are created. This is why courage is important. If a manager has neglected this aspect of their personal development it is the first place to begin the journey to becoming an effective leader.

Feedback for champions

The future of executive coaching, it can be argued, lies with the new stakeholder centered coaching (SCC) approach created by Marshall Goldsmith. Whilst there are 360 tools available, many are ineffective and easily misinterpreted. SCC uses real face-to-face 360 feedback, plus an objective leader assessment to provide the leader with priceless information he or she needs to develop into an all-round effective leader. Taking this feedback on board, and acting upon it requires a great deal of courage and humility. This is in fact one of the pre-requisites for enrolling a manager onto the coaching programme.

Perception becomes reality

We all know that perceptions differ widely among people, even their perceptions about a shared experience. This phenomenon can act to cap a person’s potential and limit their capability, especially in organisations that tend to judge people quickly and easily, and where promotions are made via closed room discussions about the potential of individuals based on observed and expected behaviour.

It needn’t be this way. Imagine knowing exactly what your key stakeholders know about you and what you can do to be a better leader. Imagine how this might progress your development, your career aspirations, and your value to your organisation. Imagine also, the people who have formed their perceptions about you and your potential, about how far you can go in the organisation, and what you can be trusted with, these people are your stakeholders, and they are watching you as you shape yourself into the leader they all have said they want you to become. How empowering is this?