Becoming a Leader – Just Starting Out; Leading by Example

Mandela-Statue-Getty-ImagesFor many of us, describing what makes a good leader in the workplace is extraordinarily difficult but when we meet one we just know it!

So where do you start to improve your leadership effectiveness when becoming a leader? There are plenty of leadership models you can follow. If you are lucky, your organisation might subscribe to one and immerse you in some leadership training.

Becoming a Leader – Know Your Values; What Makes You Tick

The first step in improving your leadership skills is to define what your values are, what makes you tick, what do you hold near and dear to your heart. What inspires and motivates you, what if you were forced to violate would led to sleepless nights? Write it down. Refer to it daily. Here is a good example of a personal value statement

Most companies also have a value statement about their ethics and how they expect their people to act. You need to build congruence between your personal values and that of your company. This is vitally important. Can you map their values to yours? If you can’t, consider if they are the right company to build our career with. The reason this congruence is so vital is that if you are ever placed in a position that you must make decisions that are not aligned with your core values, you will face enormous personal conflict, sleepless nights and damaging stress.

If your values and that of your company do not align closely, it is only a matter of time before you will be placed in a position that conflicts with the very being of who you are. It may be worth departing to another job before this happens for your own sanity. For me, in the workplace, I sum up my values in three words; ethical, dignity and respect. Typically, I have found these always seem to have great alignment with a corporation’s values. Maybe I have been lucky and worked for ethical brands!

Lead by Example – Model the Way

I think leading by example is a good place to start. Model the behaviour you expect others to display. Kouzers and Posner in their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership call this modelling the way. In my experience, this sets the foundations to become an effective leader. You must act as you want others to act. You can’t do this if you don’t know what your personal values are. Treat your staff disrespectfully and they will mirror that behaviour among themselves and perhaps back at you.

Some may disagree, but I also think it is good to keep some distance between you and your employees to give them room to talk among themselves without your presence. I remember one manager who refused to eat with his peers who were entitled to a free meal in the cafeteria and always sat with us and paid for his meal. He was a good boss but we all wished we had a bit of space at lunch time!

Just Do it! – Leadership ain’t easy

Recently, I took my team through enormous change process which impacted on every part of their working day by centralising operations from four sites. This changed everything they did. Replaced equipment and complex software systems with a totally different platform, implemented new processes, and made people accustomed to working autonomously to work together as part of a team. Everyone was excited about the future but I knew the hard work would begin when the vision became reality. I knew tempers would flare as we ironed out all of the transition issues. Because of my personality type, I knew I could not be very compassionate when conflict occurred. I recognised that this would set up an environment that would challenge me as a leader and I resolved to improve my performance. Before the change commenced, I set very clear expectations about treating each other respectfully and continued to reinforce this expectation. I saw it as my job to create a respectful environment so teamwork would emerge.

Fix it with Fierce Conversations

I continued to reinforce my expectations and counsel those who broke my expectations. I used a technique I learnt in a leadership course that came from the book “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott. The book outlines a very powerful technique to manage performance conversations that requires you to hit a number of points in an initial 60 second statement. This technique requires that you acknowledge you are also part of the problem and concludes by inviting the employee to contribute ideas to fix what is now a shared problem. I was taught if you missed one point, the process would fail, so I wrote out what I had to say and rehearsed the script aloud. It was hard work that took me way out of my comfort zone. It was scary watching my employee’s body language as I reprimanded them but I was amazed as their initial defensiveness dissolve into a constructive, collaborative conversation at the end.

Stand Back and Watch it Happen

It was amazing to see the end result on the team. A sense of teamwork developed and people took pride in their work in ways that they had never done before. It was a very humbling experience and I was proud of what my guys achieved together.

If you can get this far, you are well on the way to becoming a great leader as you will have set the foundations.

Further Reading

Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership Kouzers and Posner http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/about-section-our-approach.aspx

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time – Susan Scott (2002) http://www.amazon.com/Fierce-Conversations-Achieving-Success-Conversation/dp/0425193373

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