Leadership Questions and Answers

After the sessions offering my ‘top tips’ on leadership to LTS staff (see previous post) I was asked some questions. I have tried to capture these with an outline of the answers I gave.

Can you learn to be a leader or is something you are born with?
Great question. I take a situational (and adaptive) view of leadership rather than one based on position or status. My daughters often provide leadership at home when it comes to deciding how we spend our time, our money or what we are going to eat. In the workplace leadership often shifts within a team depending on the context, expertise and experience of team members. However, there are also some situations where positional leadership is important and I have seen organisations where the people paid to lead duck the difficult decisions.

There are leadership skills/competences that can be learned – largely through exercising them rather than reading about them (and the earlier the better). Having said that there are some personal characteristics/dispositions that I think are helpful, eg being able to listen and empathise, not being too risk averse, being optimistic, being able to express a clear view that is comprehensible to others. As a former teacher you would expect me to say that all of these are learnable and they are. Some people have a better start which means the others have to work harder at developing the skills, competences, and dispositions if they are going to be effective.

Which of your top tips do you find the most difficult to put into practice?
I don’t like admitting it but probably the one relating to prioritising work. When I am in the office I could quite happily spend my time walking round speaking to staff and finding out what they are doing. Important work but I also need to make sure that I complete tasks, do paperwork, review plans, prepare for meetings etc. The reality is that I enjoy the former more than the later and we all tend to gravitate towards our comfort zones and I need to watch this. As an aside I am really pleased that my comfort zone is not sititng behind a desk or filling my diary with long pointless meetings.

How do you get staff to lead rather than wait to be led?
It’s about the culture of the organisation. If people get their backsides kicked for showing their initiative or if there is a blame culture you can bet that nobody wants to lead unless they absolutely have to. (See Don Ledingham’s excellent post on personal accountability against aspirations.) In LTS we need to give staff supported opportunities to lead – very different to dumping tasks that we don’t like. We need to learn from mistakes, ie if we are going to make mistakes we should try to make new ones. In my experience supported opportunities to lead helps to motivate staff, so we get much better results as an organisation because we are maximising our collective potential and are able to deliver better services to our stakeholders.

What about leading across and up?
Not easy but the top tips should help, in particular know your role and make sure you know what you stand for. Building these relationships has to be based on an understanding of mutual interest (achieving organisational goals) and mutual dependency (you need your peers and boss to succeed just as much they need you to succeed – if this is not the case you have a sure recipe for a dysfunctional organisation).

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