The role of a leader is to lead. Sounds like a no-brainer huh? What is a leader if nobody chooses to follow him?
I was once told by my platoon commander when I was serving the Singapore Armed Forces that “the biggest fear a leader is to look over his shoulders and realise that nobody is following him”.
That day was the last day I left the camp and green uniform behind. But the words have stuck with me since.
In essence, it truly highlights the principle that “A Leader is only a Leader when there are people Following him”, and that a Leader is nothing without without his followers and supporters.
That begs the second question then: Why do people follow anyone else?
There are several reasons for this. But without going too deep into philosophy and/or sociology, I think that people generally follow somebody else’s lead because it is perceived that the everybody can get the job done in a better fashion.
Mind you, this does not naturally mean that the hearts and mind of the people are won and that they would follow somebody wholeheartedly. Seldom do we see something like that happen.
The power of leadership may come as a “natural endowment”, ie, people vest their trust and loyalty upon a leader voluntarily. Others may come as a form of “vested authority”, ie, authority is delegated and the leader is appointed. In effect, you can interpret it as empowerment through democracy and/or authoritative means. Each method has its merits and I won’t go into detail about that.
Yet, like it or not, a leader has to be able to wield an appropriate degree of the various leadership tools that are of both “democratic” and “authoritative” nature from time to time to get their work done.
Having worked with a fair deal of people of who were stepping into leadership roles without extensive experience of handling mega projects prior to their latest appointments, I had a quite a good time observing the similarities and differences that lie behind what makes a competent and experienced leader.
The way they communicate is one such difference. Here are some communication principles that separate competent leaders from inexperienced ones:
1. Competent Leaders Possess Clarity
Competent Leaders possess a great deal of clarity about their visions and how things ought to be like prior to communicating their visions to their audience and subordinates. It is key that the former understands what the final product looks like so that he may address any queries or suggestions appropriately.
Furthermore, the ability to identifying and predict gaps earlier on also inspires confidence in the leader as not only do the projects run smoothly and enhance the chances of success, the leader’s ability to “foresee the future” will only enhance his/her standing among the team.
How’s that for being a “mini-god” *winks*
1. Competent Leaders Use Directive Words for Instruction
Can you imagine a world when the leader who has the relevant authority to keep asking for permission to use that authority?
I’m not talking about Richard Nixon here.. But when a leader has the legal and legitimate authority, he is free to use it within his capacity as a leader. But the act of constant requesting and pleading negates that ability of the leader to exercise his authority properly.
How does a leader command by pleading?
This is what I call the paradox of the pleasing. We try to win people over by pleasing. Yet, people will hardly follow you if you’re too nice because you do not inspire confidence and credibility.
Rather than, “Can you please do this/that for me…”, the recommended solution is to use commanding words like
“Tom, you shall do ……”
“At this time, Brian will come in to……”
“Jenny, will be in charge of running the booth and overseeing its operations. Jason, will assist Jenny by setting up the booth before hand and moving the boxes of magazines for display…”
1. Competent Leaders Listen and Look for Common Ground
Competent Leaders look beyond themselves. They have to take care of their team, the welfare of the “pack” to ensure that morale is high and loyalty is strong.
At the same time, they have to observe and listen out to their teams’ needs and concerns. Especially during or after giving out an instruction/direction. Some members of the team may voice certain queries and some may even express concerns/objections about the task they’re required to handle.
Your ability to listen, observe and place everybody on common ground (ie, their talents, skills interests) should match the required task at hand.
Your ability to package and sell the benefits of the tasks and its benefits will also help to smoothen the process of delegation, minimise mistakes as a result of miscommunication, and ensure greater success of the project.
1. Competent Leaders are Cool Communicators (Even when there’s a Fire)
I’ve been told early that leaders should always keep their cool. This does not mean that you’re remain passive and monotone the whole time. A fair deal of passion and conviction is welcome anytime!
But the key to being a competent leader is also about being in control. That means you should never lose your temper.
The ability to remain calm and in control is an essential trait, especially during emergencies. In such situations, when excitement runs high, a cool head is needed and the only way to come out of it tops is to remain calm, cool and composed.
Nobody likes following a leader that runs around like a headless chicken, do we?
Remain in Control!
1. Competent Leaders Communicate to Appreciate, Encourage & Motivate
At the end of the day, all everybody else wants is to be Valued, Appreciated and Trusted. In a harsh and unforgiving world such as ours today, mistakes are highly criticized while successes are expected to go unrecognized.
What value is there to working besides for the money?
That thought of it all makes people feel cheap, undervalued, and unappreciated.
These are far from positive feelings if you ask me.
A competent leader thus recognises the value of his team. He remembers that without them, nothing can be done too. In a way, the success of his performance is owed to the efforts of his members too.
Yet, the leaders’ value also lies in his ability to manage his team properly and match their skills to the required tasks.
It is a symbiotic relationship, but also one whereby the leader can do more to enhance the level of commitment and loyalty of the team toward the common cause.
To do that, the leader may:
a. Recognize Contributions
Recognize the special skills and talents that your subordinates possess and how their contributions make a difference toward the successful completion or progress of the project! Everybody likes to be appreciated, but a leader who’s able to see it specifically and communicate it sincerely enhances his standing among the people in his team.
b. Give Public Recognition
Publicly acknowledge him before the entire team. Why keep things wrapped up? Speak and share the joy and recognition by sharing it with the team. Who knows if the rest of the members might be inspired and aspire to work to put in an extra effort to be commended for their efforts next time too? *hint hint*
c. Keep Problems Under Wraps
People often make mistakes. Like how good energy may be spread around through public recognition, negative energy may pose a problem too if its unwrapped before a crowd.
Hence, it’s essential for the leader to address negative issues, problems or personal issues in private with individuals. Doing this has several merits.
For one, you’ll get lots of time to address the issues with the person individually without worrying about taking up others’ time.
Secondly, you protect the person’s pride and dignity. A person will be less defensive if he sees no need to protect his pride before others, thus allowing you more time to address the root of the issue. This will definitely come across as more constructive as both parties are able to learn from it.
Thirdly, you protect the morale and prevent it from dipping even lower. The idea of sharing the mistakes so that everybody can learn from it still applies, but it should not be seen as a finger-pointing session.
Addressing the issues privately enables one to focus purely on moving forward and learning, minimising tension and hurting the team member and the groups’ morale, and protecting the harmony and synergy within the team for the next project.
Everybody comes out stronger as a result of that.
* * *
Leadership is definitely a challenge to behold. It’s not an easy task, yet it’s a role that holds many rewards and potential for one person to do lots of good through the power of a team.
Like public speaking, leadership is a skill that can be learned. And communication, being a tool for individuals, is definitely one of the tools and skills of leadership.
Learn to lead well. Speak well. And Speak and Lead your way to glory.