A toolbox is a toolbox. A set of well-honed tools that the home builder takes on the job and uses when he or she considers them necessary. It is appropriate to look into the toolbox of a leader, we can learn much from the toolbox, but not really from the type of tools the leader uses, rather from the care and inspiration the leader has when using them. So, let’s abandon that wrong habit of seeking to define a leadership style by the set of tools that the leader uses, let’s have clear in mind that there are no leadership styles, there are only leaders. You will notice that some tools, as is typical of tools, overlap functions. Tools are instrumental, they are functional objects that the leader may or may not use depending on what he or she is doing. It is very important to know you can use them, but they are only tools, not all have to be used and not always. Let’s have a look at the leader’s toolbox of behaviors and skills.
This is the tool number one. Be yourself, believe in yourself and your inspiration, follow your instinct. Don’t be afraid to show yourself for what you are, weaknesses included. What makes you a leader is your fight for the achievement. Forget success, that is a consequence. Endeavor is the essence and when you endeavor you also make errors and fight against your weaknesses. Authenticity is the most powerful tool a high leader has, it is the base of charisma.
Intended as the quality to adapt to new conditions or change, it is a fundamental requirement for a leader: situations and environments are continuously evolving and changing, determining constant adaptation of operational thought. Adaptability is a point of strength, vision and goal remain unchanged, the road and means to realize them may functionally adapt to changes in the environment.
Change is not a weakness, change is open-mindedness and pragmatic knowledge that there may be many ways to reach a goal. While the focus on the goal must never be touched, as in the above point, being open to reach that goal through different roads is greatly stimulating for all the team, who can then contribute with differing points of view and compare them before taking action.
A leader should always be actively involved with the team. The involvement is not only at the level of sharing and inspiring the vision for the same goal but gets down to develop a personal relationship with each team member to support individual development and foster continual growth. The leader’s ability is that to bind the individual’s development to the organizational goals. Mistakes from team members should be faced by the leader by giving feedbacks that fix the problem and help grow. Relations with team members should be based on a developmental plan that is reviewed and upgraded individually from time to time. Delegating is also indispensable to grow team members.
A leader always follows through on actions, promises and assignments.
Transparency builds trust. Communication reinforces the team’s motivation and productivity. It clarifies thoughts and speeds up processes but, above all, it establishes the magic sequence of connection, inspiration, persuasion.
Steadiness of a leader in day to day activity and expectations is extremely important for the team. Consistency means a leader has competence and knowledge of what he or she is doing. Having a defined set of rules to rely on and a clear and stable objective, is strongly stimulating for the team. On the contrary a frequent change of path, mood or behavior from the leader is enormously frustrating for the team. Change, obviously, is in the nature of a leader and in any complex project it is a positive quality, but change intended as functional to a constant objective is the opposite of repetitive change because the objective is unclear, and the mood is stressed.
Encourage all the team’s creative side and imagination. Let the team propose parallel routes or even plan Bs, organize a cyclical creative meeting where the project you are working on is discussed and seen from a purely creative side, call it the ‘crazy meeting’. Far from crazy, I drew some of the best ideas and solutions precisely from these meetings. Creativity is also an incredible builder of relations within the team.
Know when to stop analyzing an issue and make a decision.
Depth of field and Open mindedness
Depth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appear acceptably sharp. In leadership it is looking with perspective at where you have been, where you are and where you want to go. It is this sense of perspective that permits a leader to constantly adapt the characteristics and the aim of an organization to the ever-changing world in order to obtain the best performance possible. This perspective requires a certain degree of flexibility and the ability to constantly adapt to unexpected or changing situations.
Determination is firmness of purpose. It is a resoluteness to pursue the goal of the project also in front of difficulties and doubts. High leadership projects almost always bring innovation and innovative projects almost never follow paved roads, on the contrary these projects require that you open the way for yourself. This is one of the most difficult things to do because there are no reference points and seeking support for one’s own decisions is impossible, even the best intentioned don’t fully understand where you are heading and what is at stake. A leader doesn’t head forward blindly but constantly puts constructively into discussion each choice and this makes moving forward extremely difficult. Determination is, ultimately, what makes the leader move forward and it comes out of the leader’s inspiration and belief that what he or she is doing is right.
When you are opening up your own path you can’t expect guidance and you can’t rely on anyone except yourself.
A disciplined and clearly planned process is fundamental
to keep track of you and your team’s work.
Always support diversity. It is an enormous resource of ideas, points of view, open-mindedness. It is a positive side of life.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is an essential tool to establish communication and trust between the team. Empathy does not necessarily imply that you agree with the other’s feelings or thoughts, but it means you see and understand their point of view. This is a heavy-duty tool to establish strong collaborations. Empathy (from the Greek in – ‘inside’ and pathos – ‘feelings’) is the Greek synonym of the Latin word compassion (from the Latin ‘suffer with’, ‘feel with’) and both mean sharing the same passion, the same feelings in the positive sense of understanding.
Leaders should always empower people at all levels to make decisions. Distribution of responsibility is not only healthy for the organization, stimulating fresh ideas but also enables the leader to evaluate the team and each individual’s ability.
Empowerment means first of all sharing a same vision and
giving others the chance to actively participate to that vision. It is as powerful as the sound of the word itself because what human beings can do when they share a common value and a common objective, is incredible. When we talk about empowerment we are talking about the art of leadership because when a leader is empowering others to become leaders, he or her is giving them the vision and stepping back. It is when you learn how to step back that you obtain the highest commitment from the team.
Ethics and integrity are a very common interpretation of the leader. It is also very boring and untrue.
A leader is an inspired individual who has a vision to change the world for the better: in this sense integrity means remaining attached to one’s own inspiration and vision and not letting contingency change what you believe in, even when it is difficult or unpopular to stay the course.
The leader’s ethics, or moral code, is set, when necessary, to stretch things just a little beyond limits, for the good of the project. But it needs to be very clear that the daring of a leader is done with judgement and pragmatism. Success at all costs is never contemplated in the ethics of a true leader, rather it is success at the cost of stretching a little, for the benefit of the less inspired and less daring who would have not reached the same results. In this sense the excesses of some unashamed leaders who lost the sense of living is in no way justified here.
The strong inner faith and the daring of an enlightened
leader often are the winning factors that bring success and change. The ability of the leader is really that to work on the borderline. As soon as a leader falls beyond the limits of what is commonly considered acceptable not to say legal, that leader will have completely lost all the respect and recognition of the team.
Anyone makes mistakes or misjudges situations. Don’t be afraid to show your errors and mistakes. Acknowledging a limit makes you honest and trustworthy. Errors develop relations and bring to surface the others real intentions. Often, a leader admitting an error strongly improves his charisma and influence over a team who will want to step in and help solve the problem.
Too much attention is given in the last decades to the qualities of an empathic, collaborative, humble leader. These qualities are good and necessary but as long as they are framed within the general behavior of a leader. A high leader remains what it is: a leader. And there is nothing more inspiring, motivating and reassuring than a leader that ultimately exercises power by pronouncing the last word and leading the way. Listen, participate, understand, use but ultimately go ahead and lead.
Treat everyone fairly. Have one standard that applies for all. Impose clear roles and responsibilities. Require that anyone talks outright about any issue, don’t let gossip become the means of communicating issues.
Firm and unwavering focus on the objective
The objective, once identified, must be pursued. Changes in the situation do not put on hold the operational leader’s actions but require the leader to recalibrate the actions to take in relation to the changed situation. This also means involving the team and discussing with the team the possible change, on the basis of a firm focus. This greatly stimulates and motivates the team because it generates a very collaborative environ-ment in which everybody fights for a common objective.
Freedom of action
Freedom of action is essential for a leader. It allows the leader to use competence, experience and pragmatic imagination at his or her best to effectively reach the expected results. There are many threats to freedom of action that begin with a board unable to accept the risks or share the strategy and end with the organization’s social or legal limitations. Reasonably stretching limitations with the objective of completing the project is part of the leader’s duties, however this is a delicate behavior that may compromise the entire project and must be considered very carefully. The courage of the leader to act for the benefit of the project and maintain freedom of action, when used with judgement, benefits the organization who is usually less willing to take risks as a whole, but also benefits the team who is strongly motivated by a courageous leader, who believes in the project to the point of taking risks for the project.
Gender and inclusion
Any gender and / or inclusion issue should be killed at the origin. Issues must be addressed firmly and quickly. The message for the team is not only that these issues are not accepted but they are deeply wrong. Depending on the cultural level of the leader, make historical examples. If you don’t have any, take your time to search and address the issue the following day.
Leadership is about creating an environment where everybody can recognize and share their values and find opportunity. Helping people bring forward their innovative thinking also helps the organization’s development by making the most of people’s creativity. In such an environment everybody feels they are having an impact and want to give more.
Lead by example
A leader always is an example for the team. Giving the example means showing your commitment to the project and your determination in executing it. Furthermore, giving the example also means establishing a collaborative environment in which the team can share your experience and competence and grow by learning directly from the leader. Above all, leading by example secures trust from the team, who sees a coherent and genuine leader. There should never be any distinction between what you say is what you do, this is a strong example that helps build your influence. Actions speak louder than words.
Listening is a very powerful tool for leaders. It helps the team feel committed to the project and it rapidly develops a collaborative environment. It also empowers each team member, who feels as actively contributing to the project’s development also at strategic level and respected by the leader. Listening also develops the human relations between leader and team members, and helps the leader better understand each team member contribution. Being able to listen and understand others gives you the possibility to analyze, feedback and act in function of what others tell you and this involves also adapting your strategy. A leader should encourage others, also with personal behavior, to talk and learn to listen.
Motivation is a super powerful tool. It creates a string sense of belonging in all the team and it improves the team’s performance and energy. A motivated team is inevitably also an individually inspired team that effectively contributes to the project. Motivated teams take responsibility for what they do; are ready to put in discussion each step because they don’t perceive criticism in discussing but perceive constructive collaboration to faster or better reach the project’s goal; communicate transparently; have a proactive behavior to the benefit of the organization.
Passion is an essential trait of a leader. We’ve talked about it extensively in the previous chapter. What passion kicks off, determination accomplishes. Any activity, no matter how successful you see it, has its highs and lows. A leader crosses troubled waters keeping calm and cool, focusing on the goal and single action plans, determined to move forward.
Any leader knows he or she is unable to have full knowledge and full control of any given situation. Experience, instinct, information, analysis, all contribute to build up a neat picture upon which to take a decision. However, a leader knows there are always areas of uncertainty and the unpredictable factor. On the other hand, following the ideal road may become time consuming or energy consuming. Pragmatism is that balanced approach that permits a leader to follow the chosen road, while being always ready to change by taking into account the surrounding environment and risks.
I consider reading novels and handbooks as one of the strongest means for developing leadership. Literature offers an unlimited insight into the thought processes and behaviors of human beings and is essential to learning and understanding leadership. Leaders read and learn from classical and modern literature.
Always accept responsibility for your actions.
Each single achievement is achieved by the team, it is never achieved by the leader. Step back, give oxygen to the team, let them triumph when a result is achieved. A team that feels ownership of the project is an incredibly productive team. When there is a failure that depends on the team, support the team in analyzing and discussing the errors but take ultimate responsibility. Everyone knows the responsibility is not yours or not exclusively yours, but they will see how much you believe in the team and how much you are ready to support it. this will greatly stimulate the team to do better and more.
Always look straight into the eyes and shake hands vigorously but not to the point hurting others.
Set a clear strategic direction, feel confident with your decision, pursue that direction without hesitation.
Let others talk to understand their position and approach before you talk. Don’t get directly into business but talk about anything else, never be the first to bring up business because the first who does this is the one more in need. Reflect carefully on the words you use, even at the cost of talking slower than ideal: your use and choice of words tells much about how you feel secure about yourself and about your cultural strength, belief and control over the project you are leading.
When possible and independently from the organization, arrange for an extra sports or leisure activity where the whole team can participate. Relations improve, objectives are shared.
Transparency stimulates conversation and improvement of everyday practices. Sharing information at all levels of leadership brings a higher level of performance because it helps reach a better understanding of the problem and subsequently of the solution.
Trust has to be earned and you earn it only on field. You earn trust when you believe in your project and you fight every day for your project, you are willing to involve your team for the achievement of the common goal. Unconditioned commitment to your project, availability to put yourself into discussion for the benefit of the project, actions and reactions always functional to the good of the project build trust. Be ready to say ‘Excuse me’ when you are wrong and be ready to say ‘Do as I say’ when you are right. When you pronounce these words openly and firmly, you have obtained the trust of you team and all those that participate to your project.