Presenting to an audience of around a hundred leaders of our country's emergency services recently, I asked them, "What are the challenges you're currently facing, where leadership is at the core?"
There were some common threads across the room:
'In the past, and even today in pockets, our instincts are to tell people what to do.'
'We recognise the current leadership style no longer works, and the people joining our service today don't understand or want to be a part of the command and control culture that still exists, and is our default when things get tough.'
'We try to empower our people to make their own decisions, and now struggle to know how to fill our own time.'
'We are frightened people will see us doing nothing and fear we will lose respect.'
In engaging with the audience during my time with them, I could feel the stress this was causing; it was clear they were searching for a real, practical answer to the realities they faced. They had no answers because they found it almost impossible to determine what they needed to do; they were coming up against those realities in the job which are often hidden and never addressed.
During the presentation we tackled the first of those 'hidden realities' by discussing the question, 'What is leadership?' Here are some of the responses:
These are fairly typical responses from a managerial audience irrespective of sector, public or private.
I turned their answers back on them: 'Hands up all those visionary, inspiring, charismatic, communicative and authentic leaders in the room.' As you might imagine, one cheeky person put up their hand to laughter around the room.
So what's the problem? The problem is that the majority of people, when asked to define what leadership is, have such a woolly view of what it is, it's impossible to determine what they could do to become a better leader.
Often the same people believe the myth 'leaders are born, not made'.
The second hidden reality we discussed was 'leading by example'. When asked what they mean by this, the response was, 'If I'm seen to muck in and help out with some of the work, my staff will see that I'm not a 'do as I say not as I do' person, and that I don't see myself as aloof or above the staff.'
The hidden reality is some managers believe they will gain the respect of their team members if they are seen to muck in and do the same work. Many lack the confidence to believe that a good manager or leader is respected for their management or leadership characteristics. This is because they themselves do not have a clear picture of what good leadership looks like.
Other hidden realities include:
I don't have charisma
I am not inspirational
I don't need a vision in my situation
I don't know what leadership is and so don't know how to get better
I have no idea how to measure my current leadership capabilities
Leadership is a daunting and difficult area to define, measure yourself in, and decide what you need to do to improve. Instinctive learnt behaviour in most managers can be adapted, and people can choose to learn and practise different habits and behaviours, to ensure that their leadership capability has greater impact on people, processes and ultimately on results.
If the managers and leaders in your organisation could do with a behavioural check-up on how good they are, and how to get better at leading, then please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or tel (020) 7183 0081 to arrange an informal discussion on how we can help you meet these challenges.