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The Mark of Outstanding Leadership

Written by Kul Mahay

Understanding leadership is the first step to creating extraordinary teams. The second step is to implement some key non-negotiable beliefs as a leader.

As I write this, I have just returned from a two day programme for leaders within an organisation. I was beautifully mesmerised by their passion for extraordinary leadership. However, I have to admit to a wry smile when I asked them what leadership actually meant to them. Silence!

Now, you have to understand that all of these people were great leaders in their own rights and passionate about making a difference but their response was no different to 100s of who have been faced with the same question. Across organisations, people are taking on greater responsibilities in their roles, managing other people or responsible for increased performance, yet few truly understand what ‘leadership’ means.

Even the Oxford English dictionary cannot state the definition clearly, without using the world ‘lead’ in its explanation. It describes leadership as, ‘The action of leading a group of people or an organisation.’
Yet if you were to search the term on the Google you would get over 2 billion results back.

So why is that so many struggle to understand what leadership is? Is it perhaps that we have over-complicated something that has been a part of the human psyche from the earliest of caveman days? When it comes to leadership, I have my own definition, ‘if you are responsible for other people or the outcomes of circumstances, you are a leader.’ The truth is that we all hold some level of responsibility for others at some stage of our lives, personally or professionally, thus we are all leaders.

The question that now remains is what kind of leader would you want to be? How would you want those affected by you to remember you? Most would answer that they would want to be respected as being a compassionate and visionary leader that developed others.

The best leaders are those that have learnt to be fluid and make it seem a natural gift as they seamlessly move from one leadership style to another adapting to changing landscapes and circumstances for maximum impact. However, one thing is clear. Great leaders are driven by strong, empowering belief systems and fully ‘walk their talk’.

Some of the beliefs that many great leaders hold are:

Helping others to grow is a strength. It is very easy in this competitive world of for anyone to feel threatened by the smartest or most dynamic members of their team, thinking that they might make them look weak. However, strong leaders will actively encourage people to work to their strengths. A corner stone of great leadership is the awareness and commitment to develop others to become leaders. I once heard a phrase some 20 years ago that has stuck with me to this day –‘The mark of an outstanding leader is not how good a leader you are but how many leaders you develop.’

Employees are individuals. True diversity is about recognising the individual difference in people, understanding that everyone has their own motivation, strengths or learning styles. To figure out these idiosyncrasies would be something that great leaders would see as a personal challenge.

Employees are your peers. I have seen many leaders in my time who have allowed their ego to become a part of the leadership thinking. With this you risk the loss of professionalism and respect. The role of a leader is not to ‘enforce’ rules and conditions but to facilitate growth. Exceptional leaders see employees as peers who have something valuable to contribute to the collective goal. Exceptional bosses actively seek out a diverse range of individuals and ideas. They expose themselves and their companies to new ways of thinking.

Work is something to enjoy. We all know that we work best when we are enjoying what we are doing and the environment that we do it in. Very often, as a leader I would drop into various sections within my department on a Friday afternoon to hold a quiz for an hour just to allow staff to feel that they were a part of something quite special. It helped to create the ‘one team’ culture. I focused on looking at people’s strengths and interests allocated work accordingly wherever possible.

Change is healthy. How many times have you heard, “This is the way we’ve always done it”? There are plenty of examples of organisations that refused to adapt to a changing market place only to fail in spectacular fashion. Great leaders see change as an opportunity for improvement and stay ahead of the curve. More importantly, they ensure they communicate change effectively to their teams and take their people along with them.

In conclusion to this short introduction to effective leadership you might want explore what your particular leadership style is and how adaptable are you to changing circumstance. I would absolutely recommend that explore the fundamental beliefs that you hold as a person and translate those across into your leadership so you come from an authentic place.

Kul Mahay is a Leadership Coach, Trainer and Lecturer using his 20 years experience as senior police leader to help other leaders to overcome the stresses and strains that these oppositions by helping them to develop greater self-awareness and management.

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