No one said being a leader is easy. Whether you’re a person or a company, there is a certain sense of gravity and expectation that goes with the job and the title. So grave is the weight, that it caused Joseph Wambaugh to pen the words: ‘fish rots from the head’. Meaning that when an organisation or state fails, it is the leadership that is the root cause.
So what are the qualities of a good leader? It all starts with how others perceive who you are as a leader.Leadership Presence: Your personal brand
What exactly is leadership presence?
More than simply building rapport and trust, and projecting confidence, leadership presence is about inspiring in others the desire to be the best they can be. It is about being able to coach and mentor those you lead.
American internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist Tony Hsieh says: “For individuals, character is destiny. For organisations, culture is destiny.”
And he’s not wrong. Let’s take that concept and consider how it ties with personal brand. If your character is your destiny, then your character, as an individual, is your personal brand. Likewise, if your culture is your destiny, then your culture, as an organisation, is your organisational brand.
Culture is not simply the responsibility of the firm’s management team or its leaders. Culture is everyone’s responsibility. But a good leader leads that culture. And a good leader inculcates in others a sense of pride to grow their own character and personal brand, much like the leaders themselves. Remember the phrase: lead by example?
It all starts with a leader’s personal brand. How you conduct yourself, how you are seen by others, what your values and ethics are, becomes the backbone of your personal brand, your destiny. It becomes how you lead your people.
And it all stems from your ability to communicate with them.
Communicate to influence and inspire
Effective communication is essential to build rapport, which leads to trust. In a professional capacity, whether you are a leader, manager, or employee, trust is the backbone of any productive or positive relationship. In a manager-employee relationship, where communication thrives, there is transparency, which means employees know where they stand, and the leader or manager is able to provide feedback, and lead and coach employees to their highest potential. Honest, authentic and open communication fosters positive relationships that benefit the individuals in the relationship, then the team, and finally, the organisation.
In a Harvard Business Review Interact/Harris Poll from mid-2015, it was identified that ninety-one percent of employees regarded communication issues as something that can drag executives down. That is too big a number to ignore. The poll acknowledged that the communication issues that prevent effective leadership included, not giving clear directions and refusing to talk. In fact, something as simple as not being able to, or refusing to talk on the phone or in person could damage a leader’s executive brand. This is a hard pill to swallow.
With such confronting results, it would be a career limiting move not to embrace improving one’s communication skills.
So we’ve established that having excellent communication skills is one of the fundamental requirements of a good leader. But good communication skills are not restricted to how well you speak or write, or how many words you know, or the length and breadth of your diction and vocabulary.
More importantly, it is about how well you engage with others as a leader. How well you listen, project curiosity to seek answers, and empathise with those you lead. Because if you don’t understand and relate to the pain point, how are you meant to lead, inspire and influence them through the pain?
Which brings us to the power of emotional engagement.
The Power of Emotional Engagement: Inspiring change
Remember what we said about leadership presence? About how it’s more than just building rapport and trust, and projecting confidence? About how it’s the ability to coach and mentor those who report to you? And beyond that, even to those who look up to you?
Part of being a good leader, nay, an inspired and inspiring leader, is sharing wisdom and experience to inspire not just self but others as well to reach their full potential and perhaps even embrace change. And the best way to share wisdom and experience? Tell a story. Why? Because humans are hardwired for storytelling.
American psychologist Alison Gopnik states that "other people are the most important part of our environment." When you tell a story and bring characters into your story, you automatically bring your story to life in a way that humanises you and takes you beyond simply being a manager or leader ticking boxes.
To bring your characters to life, add depth so they form a three-dimensional picture in the mind of the audience. Give your audience a reason to identify with the characters by presenting them with the characters’ thoughts, feelings and situations. Give them something to resonate with. That way, you increase buy-in.
In his Presidential Acceptance Speech of November 2008, President Obama gives a perfect example of the power of emotions and storytelling to influence. The President wanted the audience to feel invigorated after his speech. So he led them on a journey and told them a story about 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper who stood in line to cast her ballot in Atlanta.
President Obama’s recollection of 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper’s journey from an America where women’s voices were silenced, to this day where her voice could and would be heard, is a memorable and inspiring story to give Americans hope and a glimpse of an ever changing and ever improving future.
Embracing storytelling in a business environment helps you, as a leader, effectively communicate the vision and strategic intent for greater engagement, direction, focus and clarity amongst those you lead and desire to inspire to achieve organisational goals. It also aids you to deliver memorable messages that resonate with your audience and influence how people think, feel and act for more positive responses to change and increased levels of productivity.
The building blocks of a leader
American President John Quincy Adams once said:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
So the kind of leader you want to be, the kind that does not rot the fish at its head, is a good leader, an inspired and inspiring leader, an influential leader and a communicative leader. It all begins with some internal work and building intrapersonal skills, and then some external work and building interpersonal skills.
Essentially, you are the architect of your destiny as a leader. You craft the blueprint and you then become the builder who lays the foundation and stacks on the building blocks to grow that development. And when others see you doing the hard work, guess what? They’ll want in on that, too.
For an exploratory conversation about your leadership goals or company leadership challenges, book a call with one of our Senior Client Advisors