Get fit to cope with the demands of Leadership


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I was reading a book the other day on leadership which caused me to reflect a little about what makes an effective leader. In their book The Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead By (Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman, 2009) the authors
have boiled leadership down to 5 essentials. They wrote the book because they thought there was too much confusing literature on ‘leadership’. Indeed, if you Google ‘leadership’ or ‘leader’ you get >350m hits – a morass of ideas. The key question in the book is “Across industry sectors, geographies and levels, what is it that leaders have to do to be effective”?

The conclusions were drawn from a meta-qualitative
study of the thoughts and experiences of 15 leadership thought-leaders who have carried out a vast number of survey and interviews and have written many books on the subject. The authors asked two questions:

  1. Based on your experience (meta analysis) ‘what % of leadership is the same basic stuff – no matter level, sector, geography’. Most people said that between 60-70% of leadership is generic.
  2. Then they asked ‘what is it that defines this 60-70%’ (qualitiative analysis). This is where the 5 areas emerged.

So what are the 5 areas:

1. Leaders must invest in themselves to be personally proficient. Effective leaders manage their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual selves well. They learn constantly. They are capable of quick, bold actions as well as great patience. They constantly deepen their insight about themselves. This is especially true in tough economic times when people look to their leaders for hope and confidence.

2. Good leaders know how to be strategists
and are able to answer the question “Where are we going?” They test their big ideas pragmatically, and they work with others to find the path from the present to the desired future.

3. Effective leaders are executors. They ask: “How will we ensure that we reach our goal?” They understand how to make change happen, assign accountability, delegate appropriately, and make sure that teams work well together.

4. These leaders are talent managers
and engage people to get things done now and in a manner that generates intense personal, professional, and organizational loyalty. They help people bring their best to the job at hand.

5. Finally, they are human capital developers
who build the next generation. They make sure that the organization has the longer-term skills, knowledge, behaviors and attitudes for future strategic success.

The first one (Personally proficient) may be the hardest one to train and develop, yet it will give us the personal resource to cope with leadership pressures. We need to look after ourselves:

  • Physically – the right nutrition, the right exercise, enough sleep
  • Socially – develop a network of good friends, have a laugh, care for someone and know that there is someone who cares about you as a person, not just as a leader.
  • Emotionally – be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Understand your style and where this may be at odds with colleagues. Keep looking to develop yourself and don’t become set in your ways.
  • Intellectually – develop the capacity to learn and develop mental agility – this gets harder as you get older and rely on models that worked previously. Constantly challenge yourself. As Marshall Goldsmith (New York Time journalist said “What got you here won’t keep you here”. For example, your previous attention to detail and command of minutia may have been your signature trait that got you to a leadership position – but they may hinder your ability as a leader. Coaching can help new leaders understand how they may have to change to become effective
  • Spirituality – try and find meaning and purpose at work that goes beyond ‘doing a job’.

Are leaders born or made – is it nature or nurture? The authors believe half of who we are is what we are born with – our pre-disposition. The other half is what we can learn, about ourselves and about the business we are in.

The good news from the authors is that no matter what our pre-dispositions, ALL OF US, if we are self aware enough, can learn the skills to plug gaps and become more effective leaders.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Neil Woodcock
Neil is Chairman and CEO of The Customer Framework Ltd. and visiting Professor at Henley Business School. An honours graduate, he worked in B2B sales & marketing with Mobil Oil, B2C marketing with Unilever and consultancy services with Andersen Consulting & McKinsey. Neil has written 5 books on customer management, is on the editorial board of leading journals and is an Honorary Fellow of the IDM.


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