Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop # 7 – develop leaders around you.

August 13, 2011

There are many indicators that show how good a leader you are. And if you’ve absorbed all the lessons in my series so far … and put them into practice, you should be getting there yourself. But one more thing that leaders at any level can challenge themselves to ACTIVELY do is to develop leadership skills in others … the key word here being ‘actively’. It’s easy to be so involved in the business of leading (or leading the business) that it’s easy to lose track of who’s climbing the ladder behind you, or to just assume that other leaders are stepping up to the plate behind you.

So here’s what you need to do …

1) Identify and encourage those with leadership potential.
Keep your eyes open for people who demonstrate integrity and leadership capability, not just in terms of their output, but also in terms of their behaviours.

Bear in mind that this capability can manifest itself in many different ways, and some of them might be easier for you to spot than others. By that, I mean it might be easier for you to spot people with similar leadership skills to your own, but possibly less easy to identify people with a different set of leadership  skills to yours (this links back to the point I made in my last post about NOT necessarily valuing your own skills set above others).

I’d strongly suggest that you observe HOW potential future leaders operate, and don’t just look at their achievements on paper.  In the short term, you might find it acceptable to advance someone who, let’s imagine, exceeds their sales target consistently, but takes short cuts and is a little underhand in how they achieve this.

In the longer term though, negative behaviours  – acting without respect or integrity – are likely to result in resentment and stress amongst colleagues, leading to lowered motivation and lower productivity.  And sometimes, as we’ve seen in recent corporate and political history, the consequences can be far worse.

Remember, too, that not everyone sees their own potential, particularly if they are at an early stage in their career. It might be up to you to identify and nurture the leaders of the future.

2) Coach, don’t always instruct.
Coaching in its truest form involves asking the coachee questions that help them to clarify their thoughts, find their own way forward, and take action. It does NOT involve giving training, advice or instructions for them to follow.

Obviously enough, as a leader, you’re going to need to direct people some of the time. But think how empowering it would be if, rather than trying to provide all the answers to a potential leader, you let them define themselves and, coached by you, make their own way forward.

It’s the difference, in simple terms, between saying “I think you ought to do xyz to improve this situation” and saying “what do YOU think you can do to improve the situation?”. Yes, it takes longer to coach someone than to give them the answers … but the impact and the buy-in  and the long term result in terms of building the confidence of future leaders are all much more powerful.

In developing a culture of independence where people are solution focussed rather than coming to you with their problems and expecting you to have the answer, it’s also a strong approach.

3) Become a mentor.
If you’ve reached a level of leadership to which you reckon others might aspire, you could think about offering to be a mentor.  Mentoring differs from coaching, as here you’ll be offering pointers and advice to the person you are mentoring. In effect, you have travelled some way down the path that they wish to follow.

There are plenty of opportunities for you to become a mentor, within larger companies, within enterprise agencies and indeed within the voluntary sector, so seek out opportunities.

A strong mentor can have a profound impact on the leaders of the future, so it’s a great way to ‘put something back’.

4) Provide opportunities for leadership.
It’s worth taking a step back sometimes and allowing someone else to take the leadership reins for a while, perhaps on a specific project or task.  OK, so you might well remain ultimately accountable, but that shouldn’t stop you from allowing others to step forward and test their potential from time to time.

Conversely, it’s worth giving some thought as to whether you might unwittingly be blocking leadership potential in others, perhaps by assuming control too much, or taking too much of a directing approach.

5) Be a role model .
This, I’d argue, is the most important factor of all.  At some level, you ARE a role model for others, whether you’re aware of it or not.  And I’m sure we’ve all come across people in our lives who are BAD role models and who provide an exemplar of what NOT to do and how NOT to treat people. I know I certainly have!

In short, aim to be the leader that you would want to follow. And remember that, while you’re developing leaders of the future, you’re also developing your own abilities to coach, mentor, and lead, and make a genuine difference.


So there we have it – 7 leadership skills that everyone should develop. Of course, there are many more – the ability to motivate people, the ability to think strategically, the ability to prioritise, to make decisions, to communicate effectively and so on.

I’ve tried to scratch beneath the surface at some of the less obvious, more personal ones, and I hope it’s given you some food for thought as you develop your own leadership style and imprint.


7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop: number 6 – leverage others

August 8, 2011

One of the marks of a strong leader is his or her ability to leverage the talents of others in order to reach organisational (and individual) goals. Leadership isn’t about knowing (or doing) it all yourself, it’s about enabling others to learn, grow, contribute and achieve excellence.

1) Know your people
I hardly need to say that unless you know your people, you’re not going to know where their talents lie and therefore you’re not going to be able to leverage them.  How well do you know your team, what motivates them at work, their out-of-work interests and so on?

A participant on a course I was delivering recently told me about a team member of his who was terrified of public speaking. Common enough, you might think. However, the course participant knew that this individual sang in a band in his spare time and regularly performed in local venues at the weekend.

Using the rationale that if you can SING in front of a crowd of people you can speak in front of them too, he coached and encouraged the singer to transfer his skills to the public speaking arena … with conspicuous success.

Had he NOT made the effort to get to know his team, this vital talent – and its link to the workplace – might have been missed.

2) Look beyond the obvious
It’s all too easy to focus on the obvious, to pigeonhole people according to their job title and to assume that, because of the work they do, they’re going to be good … or conversely NOT going to be good … at certain things. Look beyond the obvious, though, for hidden and unexpected talents.

I used to work in an organisation where, in the marketing department, we were frequently required to come up with catchy titles for performances, projects and publications.

Whilst it was well outside his remit, someone who we’d often ask for input was the Finance Officer. Why? Because he had a knack for coming up with great titles and captions and had a way with words.

If we’d pigeonholed him as the number cruncher who held the purse strings (which of course he WAS … but there was more to him than that) we’d have missed out on some great headlines. I’d like to think too that he enjoyed being asked to contribute to something that wasn’t directly linked to his job role, but was still of benefit to the organisation as a whole.

3) Don’t value your skills above everyone else’s
This is a bit of a lesson in self-awareness and humility, both of which have a role to play in leadership. Many people, whether they realise it or not, will place their own skills at a higher value than those of others.

To the creative person who loves coming up with new ideas, the logical pragmatist is “boring and conventional”.  To the strategic realist, someone with strong people skills is “touchy feely”.  To the ‘blue sky’ thinker, the person who needs to establish a context is “stuck in the past”.

If you are to leverage the skills of others successfully, you must recognise them for the values that they bring, and not undervalue them because those values might be different to yours.

At the end of the day, leadership and leveraging the abilities of others isn’t actually about you … it’s about them, and about the business as a whole.


Recognising, valuing and leveraging the skills of others is something that requires us all to leave our egos at the door and give ourselves the challenge of looking for people who aren’t just LIKE us and able to ‘fit in’, but who are BETTER than us at a given thing, and who will provide the necessary challenge to move everyone up a notch. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – number 5: manage stress and maintain wellbeing

July 17, 2011

Inevitably, leaders shoulder a lot of responsibility for the departments, businesses and organisations that they oversee. This does NOT mean, though, that neglecting your own health wellbeing and soldiering on regardless is a viable option: you’re no use to anyone as a stressed out, burnt out wreck who’s running on empty.

So here are 5 things to consider as you manage your own state of mind and wellbeing. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to stop and think about this – if that’s the case, you need to MAKE time!

1) Recognise the signs
Working under pressure is a little bit like the old ‘boiling frog’ metaphor: you gradually become more and more pressured until suddenly you develop a stress related illness.

It’s important to be able to distinguish between what, for you, is an appropriate and productive level of pressure….and what becomes panic or extreme stress where you might be appearing to function, but you know yourself you’re not making quality decisions, and are becoming irritable or obsessive.

Think carefully: when you start to feel stressed – WHERE physically do you feel stressed? Prickly scalp? Knotted stomach? Tense shoulders? Where?

Begin to recognise your own physical symptoms and consciously name them. Recognising and acknowledging these early signs is a key stage in being able to address them.

If you’ve been feeling very pressured, have a look at one of the many stress related websites (like ) to check out the symptoms of stress and compare yourself against them. If you want to be proactive about minimising stress levels within your organisation, have a look at, and speak to Gerard O’ Hanlon there.

Recognise also whether you’re going through a period of short term stress which you can manage and where’s there’s light at the end of the tunnel….or whether the pressures are long term with no end in sight.  The latter requires urgent action.

2) Re-evaluate what’s important
Find a pen and paper and make a list of the ten things that are most important to you. ‘Family’ can count as 1, rather than naming them individually, and the list can be in any order you like.

Be very honest with yourself here. Some of these things might be factors like ‘the need for recognition’ or ‘the need to be wealthier than my peers’ and so on – things that you might not want others to know.

Look at your list, and cross off 3 things which aren’t quite so important as the rest.

Of the remaining things on the list, cross off a further 2 that don’t mean as much to you as the others.

Of the 4 items you have left, pick your top 3.

How well do these 3 life priorities reflect the amount of time you give to them? For example, if your family comes out near the top but your job requires you to be flying all over the world all the time….where’s the balance?

If you look back at your life, it’s unlikely that you’re going to regret not having spent more time at the office.  Consider carefully what the important things in your life actually are, and begin to set yourself some goals around work-life balance.

Define what, to you, a more balanced life with less stress might look and feel like, so that you have a positive situation to work towards and don’t get stuck on a relentless treadmill of pressure, feeling powerless as it grinds you down.

If you’re trapped in a mindset that says ‘I can’t get off the treadmill – I have a family to support, bills to pay’ then give yourself a metaphorical slap in the face. Do your family want you to be a burnt out wreck? Do your creditors want you to become ill and be unable to pay your debts? No. Do yourself a favour and address the stress.

3) Retain perspective
Years ago I worked for a short while on a live, daily TV show. On one occasion, I was working with a TV chef who was assembling a pudding of some sort. Somehow, between the rehearsal and live transmission of the piece, a jug of custard had been moved from one side of the table to another, partially obscuring one of the camera shots.

During the debrief afterwards, some of the directors team were furious about the move of the custard, and went on a considerable length about the problems it had caused. The fact that no-one watching the show at home would have noticed – or even cared – didn’t seem to be a consideration.  Eventually, one senior member of the team brought the argument to a close by saying. “So a jug of custard got moved. Nobody died”.

Refresh your perspective from time to time. Take a step back. In the grand scheme of world events, where does it stand?

4) Don’t be a martyr
Pretending you’re fine and ploughing on is not an option. You might feel for some reason that this is the noble thing to do, but rest assured, it absolutely isn’t.

If you’re stressed, it’s highly likely that you’re irritable or moody and aren’t making quality decisions…which is going to impact on those around you and on your business or career.

Some leaders find themselves taking on too much because they don’t want their staff to feel pressured, working unreasonably long hours themselves whilst ensuring that their team clocks off at 5 pm.

What’s that about?! Learn to delegate, learn to trust the ability of others, and accept that you’re not earning any brownie points by being a martyr and are potentially establishing an unhealthy work ethic.

I used to work with one boss (I was very junior at the time) who pushed himself to unreasonable levels. The company was working on an important project that would impact the entire industry, and the stakes were high. However, he decided to model himself of Gordon Gekko, proclaiming that ‘lunch was for wimps’ and working long hours without a break.

I left before the project was completed, but I did hear that some time afterwards, that man had a breakdown. Was the project worth it? I’m guessing not.

5) Do something different
Make sure you have some out-of-work activities that are absolutely not work related. Golf. Needlepoint. Sky diving. Anything where your brain can have a chance to switch from pressing matters and focus elsewhere.

Simply trying to relax by doing nothing sometimes isn’t enough…the mind just wonders back to the stressful issue. In these cases doing SOMETHING –  mentally taking yourself somewhere else by reading, carrying out an activity, or going somewhere new – is the best approach to take in order to refresh and rebuild your strength.

Make sure that pressure doesn’t turn to stress. Don’t ignore it if it does.

If you look after yourself, you’ll be better able to take care of – and lead – others.

Three leadership truths that EVERY business leader must know

March 3, 2011

I have Sam Gibson (about whom, more in a moment) to thank for the three key points in this blog, and I want to start by asking you a question – especially if you’re in a position of senior management.

What’s your attitude to learning and development? Is it something you used to do while you were on your way up the corporate ladder, but don’t have the time for now? Is it something that senior managers don’t really have to do any more – you’ve learned what you need to know, and it’s something for those further down the organisation, to develop the skills and attributes that you now have? Or are you one of those rare creatures who genuinely continues to learn, challenge themselves and do something different?

Leadership truth # 1: as long as you believe yourself to be on your journey, you continue to learn. As soon as you think you’ve “arrived”… growth, learning and development stop.

Sound familiar? If growth and development stop because you’ve “arrived”, what sets in to take their place? Apathy, arrogance… or something worse?

I’ve worked with some amazing senior leaders who have the humility and self awareness to realise that we’re all on some sort of journey, and no-one ever truly “arrives”. When they reach a particular point, they quickly discover that there’s more to learn over the next horizon.

These are the ones who lead by example, who continue to learn and develop themselves and encourage others to do the same, who gain the admiration and respect of their colleagues and peers, and whose businesses and organisations thrive and grow.

I’ve also worked with some people who appear to think that the plaque on the door of their 6th floor corner office means that they have nothing more to learn.  I can’t help feeling that, not only have they missed the point, they’re missing out.

Have they actually reached the point of omniscience…or ignorance? 

Leadership truth # 2: if you stay too “me-focussed”, you’ll miss the bigger picture.

Hey! What are you looking at?! Yeah you!

I remember my first driving lesson. I was so terrified I drove at about 10 miles an hour, and kept my eyes firmly focussed on the road about a foot in front of the bonnet. I thought that if I looked up at the road in front of me… well, I don’t know WHAT I thought; I was just too scared to take my eyes off that patch of tarmac immediately in front of my car.

Where’s your focus? On the tiny little patch of whatever’s within arm’s reach… or the bigger vista on the horizon?

Perhaps the question is more to the point in a leadership context… where’s your focus? On YOU climbing the greasy corporate ladder, come what may, and getting to that board position / corner office / chauffeur-driven Roller… or on providing an exemplar of leadership that others will want to follow and emulate, that genuinely makes a difference?

And if your focus is on your own navel… what AREN’T you seeing?

Leadership truth # 3: If you have to fight, manoeuvre or politick to get into or maintain a position of leadership, something is seriously wrong.

Surely, one has only to look at the current situation in Libya to recognise the truth in this.

How did you get where you are? Through your abilities, dedication and people management skills…or by lobbying the chairman on the golf course, because it was your turn, or by trampling your peers to get to first place?

People WANT to follow the best leaders, they don’t have to be forced. They respect them; they might not always love their decisions, but they trust them. The worst leaders face the stress of constant fire-fighting to maintain their precarious positions.

Which have you become… and which would you rather be?
So (I hear you ask) who is this Sam Gibson, and wherefore the pearls of wisdom?  A groundbreaking entrepreneur? A personal development guru? An organisational development expert?

Actually no. He’s a preacher and on the senior leadership team of GLO (Gospel Literature Outreach). And the source of these observations? The stories of King David in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Why am I telling you this? Because it’s part of the Yara philosophy of having the humility to learn from everything… including the unexpected.