At Work

Leader E.Q.

We all have our favourite leaders: Gandhi or Mandela, for example.

But what do business leaders as different as Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Richard Branson or Steve Jobs have in common?

It’s a cluster of traits and qualities - business expertise plus integrity, courage, confidence, loyalty, supportiveness, openness, industriousness and enthusiasm which, working together, enable the leader to get his followers to adopt the magical ingredient of leadership called “vision”.

The leader inspires with his/her vision of how things can be. The very great leader is also “charismatic”: compellingly motivational about that vision to the extent of inspiring personal devotion.

Napoleon, a hugely charismatic, if tragic, leader said: “A leader is a dealer in hope”. And with shared hope of better times people will make great sacrifices for a better future.

As we have seen, leadership is a process of influence: establishing direction and influencing others to follow it. This applies whether you are leading a team of five to 20 or the strategic leader of a group of businesses.

Leadership is rooted in core business, product, market and technical knowledge and experience to secure follower confidence. Implicit, too, is the leader’s consistent ability to set and communicate, persuasively, realistic goals, priorities and standards and to coach and support followers to successful outcomes.

Leaders always show high emotional intelligence which not only allows them to accept their own emotional needs, but to recognise and empathise with those of their followers.

The manager produces the procedural order and predictability essential to the successful running of any organisation. But the leader envisions - and brings about - the change essential to the long term success of the business.

These traits and qualities tend to manifest in three broad leadership styles which are then mixed and matched to meet the demands of particular business and/or market situations – from a crisis like approaching bankruptcy to the challenge of product innovation or, say, energising successful but declining market share.

The first style is “autocratic”: the leader knows what must be done and makes all the decisions. Suitable for crisis situations it rapidly breeds resentment once the crisis is past.

The next is the “participative”: followers are purposively involved in decision-making and encouraged and coached to take ownership of change. Such a style is usually highly motivational and, in varying degrees, probably the best default leadership style when business is successful. On the downside, it can occasionally result in followers thinking the leader is lacking in confidence and over-dependent on consensus.

The third style is “laissez-faire” (free rein): the leader adopts a “hands off” approach and the followers run the organisation. This is probably only suitable for smaller organisations or where there is great individual and team skill, maturity, motivation and integration.

Power is a key component of all management and leadership. Rank/position always confers power. This is called “legitimate” power. It is one way and exclusive. Followers/subordinates have to accept and comply. Explicit in legitimate power are “reward” and “coercion”: authority to reward or punish, from praise or criticism to promotion or dismissal. However, leadership’s most potent power is “personal”. It is a product of expertise blended with personality: of emotional bonding between leader and follower. Compelling leaders challenge, stimulate, coach and inspire their followers to implement “our” solution, “our” inclusive vision.

Another major difference between management and leadership style is “task” or “employee” orientation. With the former (management), there is a “transactional” preference for seeking better processes and equipment, controlling the work environment, assigning tasks, organising and monitoring goals. The latter (leadership) “transformational” orientation prefers empowering individuals and teams, establishing positive relationships and trust as the way to collective problem solving and goal achievement.

A major function of leadership is assessing, training and coaching followers to a level of maturity which gives them the confidence and ability to take responsibility for their own behaviours in pursuit of an agreed goal. This moves the management culture from task to relationship focus: from directed to participative achievement. Leadership is supportive. Problem solving, innovation and success become collective and shared experience.

Inevitably, there are two big variables which impact on the leader’s ability. The first is the operating environment- the market and other constraints - which are, in varying degree, outside the leader and his organisation’s control. The second is the profile of the followers, their experience, competency and motivation. Essentially, it is the leader’s role to steer the organisation and its employees through change in response to these variables. Followers must be led to embrace rather than avoid or fear change.

A successful leadership of change moves people from asking “why change?” to “what new opportunities will change provide?” The leader must communicate the positive message that change is the solution bringing greater empowerment, job security and satisfaction.

In essence, then, leaders think “control with”, not “control over” followers. They build relationships based on trust, understanding of and commitment to, a shared, mutually beneficial vision of the future.

As China’s sage Laozi observed a very long time ago, “When the best leader’s work is done, the people say: “We did it ourselves”. Spot on, I’d say!

> Alex Cummins is a trainer with the Professional Development Unit of the British Council in Kuala Lumpur.

Article taken from Lets Communica8, Star Education