This week we’re continuing our series on leadership! Fictional though Doctor Who may be, there are few characters who epitomise the qualities of good leadership so completely. So, with The Doctor as our focus we’re going to take you on another journey through time (the next 10 minutes) and space (this article).
Today we’re looking at how you can develop the qualities of a good leader, different leadership styles and the differences between leadership, control and management.
Where leadership begins – leading yourself
Most leadership failures are the result of poor self-leadership. The single most important task of being a true leader is leading yourself, and it’s also the hardest to do. Before you can lead others, you need to understand how to lead yourself, to become a good example and inspire others through your own practices. Leading from a title or a position will only take you so far, and tends to put you in the realm of ‘manager’ rather than ‘leader’. We know that stepping outside of your comfort zone and making real change within yourself is a scary prospect, but as The Doctor says:
“Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway” – The Third Doctor
No matter how scary it is to look inward and take those first steps towards developing your leadership skills, being able to start that journey at all is a leadership skill. So, before you dive head first into trying to lead other people, you need to take a good hard look at yourself. Are you practising what you preach? Or are you being slightly hypocritical?
How leadership skills are developed
Even if you are born with a natural leadership ability, you will often need to refine those skills to make the most of them. This means assessing your strengths and weaknesses as a leader and working on improving the weak areas to complement the strong ones. You will also need to practice a lot of different elements to develop your leadership skills as fully as possible. A few ways you can develop your leadership skills include:
- Practice Discipline: A good leader needs discipline in their own work, and in their personal life. If you want to inspire others to be disciplined in their work, then you need to be at the front showing them the way. Quite often, people will judge your capacity to lead by the amount of discipline you display at work. Ensure you are demonstrating this by always meeting deadlines, keeping appointments and ending meetings on time. This may come easily if you are a naturally organised person, but if you are quite disorganised then this will be a challenge!
- Take on More: To be clear – we don’t mean take on more than you can handle. But a great way to develop your leadership skills is to take on more responsibility at work. So, step out of your comfort zone, do more than what’s covered in your job description and you will start to be noticed by everyone. You may even inspire your colleagues to do the same, even if it’s just so that you don’t outshine them.
- Learn to Follow: A true leader has no problem yielding control to another person when appropriate. And as we noted earlier being a good leader comes from following other good leaders. So, don’t feel threatened when someone disagrees with you or questions your thinking. Keep an open mind, give credit where its due and above all show that your value and respect others on your team. If you can do this, they are much more likely to step up for you when it’s needed.
- Develop Situational Awareness: There is nothing worse than a manager who can’t see what’s going on past a single interaction. The mark of a good leader is the ability to see the bigger picture at all times, anticipating problems before they occur. This is not only a great skill when it comes to dealing with complicated projects, but it allows you to recognise opportunities others overlook, step in and resolve problems before they escalate and understand the hidden subtexts in your interactions.
- Keep Learning: The best path to becoming a good learner is to always keep learning. Whether that’s learning new skills or learning from mistakes you’ve made, you should always strive to know more. The second you stop learning, you start becoming a poorer leader.
- Empower Your Teammates: No one is the best at everything, and the sooner you realise you can’t be amazing at everything, the quicker you start down the path to leadership. Instead of trying to keep all your work to yourself, delegate to your teammates, free up your time and empower them with the knowledge that you value their skills.
- Resolve Conflicts: Not everyone will get along all the time, and disagreements happen in every work environment. But instead of ignoring them and hoping they go away, step in and attempt to resolve them. Talk to those involved privately, act as a mediator and be open to reassigning team members if conflicts can’t be solved.
- Learn To Listen: Being a leader doesn’t mean you need to be in the spotlight at all times. In fact, you should be spending a lot of your time actively listening to those around you. Take on suggestions, ideas and feedback and build on them. Pick up on non-verbal communication clues and be present in all of your interactions, so that your team feel listened to and valued.
What leadership skills do I have?
So, by now we know that good leaders need a certain set of skills in order to be effective. But what are those skills, and how do you know which of them you have? Unfortunately, without knowing you personally, I can’t possibly tell you what leadership skills you have (sorry!). But I can tell you the skills every good leader needs, and hopefully, you will be able to see which you have, and which you lack.
A good leader needs to have the following skills:
- Strategic thinking
- Giving feedback
- Taking responsibility
So, take a look down the list – which of these skills do you think you have already? And which do you think you might need to work on? Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive (we’d be here forever), but it gives you a good upper-level idea of what skills make a good leader.
Why do leadership styles matter, and which am I?
One of the most important things we want to get across in this paper is that not every leader is the same. There is no magical blueprint that when followed produces a good leader. Instead, it’s more like cooking – every recipe needs different ingredients, preparation and cooking times, resulting in different dishes that ultimately fill the same need – hunger. Every leader has their own style of leadership, and different styles are appropriate for different people, different circumstances and different environments. A truly great leader can learn how to use a variety of leadership styles to suit the situation they find themselves in.
There are many different models of leadership style, but perhaps one of the best known is the Six Leadership Styles by Daniel Goleman. This model is firmly rooted in extensive research and observation and seems to fit most accurately to the real world. In this model, leadership styles can generally be broken down into 6 types:
1. Coercive or Commanding. “Do as I say.” The coercive leader can be spotted a mile off thanks to their initiative, self-control and an insatiable drive to succeed. This leadership style can be most often seen in crisis situations in fields such as the army, medical or law enforcement. This clear, calm leadership navigates through uncertain waters but doesn’t inspire others to take action and can often have a negative impact on how people feel.
2. Pace-Setting. “Do as I do, right now.” The pace-setter very much leads by example. But this type of leadership only tends to work with a highly competent and well-motivated team behind you. It can’t be sustained for long without someone flagging behind.
3. Authoritative. “Come with me.” The visionary leader, authoritative leaders come into their own when a new vision of direction is needed. They are strongly positive and have high levels of self-confidence and empathy with others, acting as the catalyst to drive change.
4. Affiliative: “People come first.” An affiliative leader values and creates emotional bonds and harmony within their teams. They tend to have strong communication skills and are very good at building relationships. Struggling teams benefit the most from the affiliative leader, as it helps heal rifts and develop motivation where it is lacking.
5. Democratic: “What do you think?” Democratic leaders build a consensus through participation. Every team member feels valued, with high levels of collaboration and a strong sense of ownership for everyone involved. However, it’s not the fastest paced style of leadership and doesn’t work well against tight deadlines.
6. Coaching: “Try it and see.” Coaching leaders develop people. They allow their teams to try different approaches to problems solving and promote long-term retention and development within organisations.
Of course, some leader may end up being a mixture of these styles. The Doctor, for example, is a mix of the authoritative and affiliative leader, showcased through his constant drive to save and include people and his ability to command people to follow him at the drop of a hat. Everyone has a preferred style of leadership that comes to them naturally, so which is yours? And is it right for the environment you are in?
Leadership for introverts
Of course, if you are more of an introvert, the prospect of leading anyone can be a bit daunting. Introverts are much less common in positions of leadership than extroverts, seemingly because they worry about being in those positions, and so are often less likely to take the step and assertively move upwards. After all, when you do a search for “extrovert,” words and phrases such as “open,” “friendly,” “approachable,” “leader,” “sociable,” “verbose,” and “able to take the initiative” appear. There is a high correlation between what we imagine “extroverts” and “leaders” to be. But the two are not actually synonymous. In fact, there are many aspects of leadership that introverts truly excel at. Emotional intelligence, introspection, self-awareness and a powerful sense of empathy to name just a few. So, the truth is that while extroverts may have an easier time rising to the top of an organisation, it’s the introverts who make the most successful leaders.
For introverts, the key to becoming a good leader is in taking the skills you already have – typically deep thinking, empathy and the ability to listen – and develop those. Inject a small dose of extroversion when needed, and you can create a leadership style that inspires deep confidence and devotion from your team based on respect and trust. For example, here are 3 ways your skills as an introvert would make you a fantastic leader:
Listening and empathising
Introverts are naturally much better listeners than extroverts. This skill, coupled with the self-awareness that also comes with introversion, makes a perfect base for a great leader. There is always more to a story than meets the eye, and being able to identify that allows you to resolve issues more effectively, sometimes before they even become problems. While an extrovert might tell an employee with performance issues to ‘buck up and work on X’, an introvert will listen carefully and identify the underlying problems behind the issue. For example, performance issues can often be caused by lack of communication, unclear goals or situations outside of their control. Once those reasons are uncovered, the leader can work with the team member to solve them, and therefore the performance issue, for good.
Think first, and act with purpose
We’ve all come across people in life who speak first and think later (and if you haven’t, it might be you). These people can be particularly difficult to work with because they don’t always understand the details of the situation before they decide how to handle it. In a leadership role, this can quickly lead to team members losing respect for the leader, resulting in a cycle of frustration, poor results and high staff turnover. But an introverted leader will tend to think deeply about an issue, explore all its outcomes and the possible consequences of their actions before they will take action. This means they often communicate more clearly and are able to drive their team towards positive results.
You only need a light touch
Extroverted leaders tend to go at things hammer and tongs, determined to throw everything they have at the issue. And while that can be a successful leadership style, you will never find an introverted leader pushing their teams harder and harder until they produce results. Instead, introverted leaders know that sometimes the solution is in the lighter touch. By thinking deeply and acting intelligently, introverted leaders can avoid all the unnecessary blustering to solve a problem, and find a softer way to achieve the result without the negative fallout that can occur from the hammer and tongs approach.
Leadership personal development resources
“Books! The best weapon in the world!”
– The Tenth Doctor
The Doctor says it best – there is nothing better than books. Books are great epicentres of knowledge, of wisdom and experience, everything the writer has learnt through their time on this earth – all waiting to be passed on to you in a few hundred leafy pages. Or pixels on a screen, if you’re more of an e-book person. The point is, there are millions of resources out there just waiting to help you develop your own leadership skills.
There are so many e-learning resources, consultants offering one-to-one training and even group courses to help you understand what it takes to be a leader and develop your own style. All you need to do is Google ‘leadership workshops near me’ and you will be inundated with options. If you’re a book person, we can highly recommend ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek – a book that helps you identify your own ‘why’, and how knowing your own why can help inspire you, and inspire others around you. Simon’s book covers the basics of leadership, and how you can alter your mindset to become a great leader. He also deals with some of the more nitty-gritty issues, like handling culture change and being able to identify the ‘why’ behind your organisation, so that you can bring it to life as well.
There’s also Jim Collin’s book ‘Good To Great’, which pairs reams of hard research with experience to deliver business advice that works across the board. While it does address some wider business areas, ‘Good to Great’ focuses in on leadership as the prime reason behind why good companies become great, and how leadership roles can be developed within a business.
Another sadly underrated resource is actual leaders themselves. If there is a good leader in your life (in any capacity), make it your mission to sit and talk with them. Experience is the best resource you could possibly hope for, and short of forging ahead and making your own experience, learning from someone else’s is the best way for you to understand what being a leader is really like. Ask them about their experiences, their views and how they deal with difficult issues. A great leader will always be happy to talk to you and support you in your own growth and development, and that gift might be the most valuable resource you could ever ask for.
“In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important”
– The Eleventh Doctor
So far, we’ve talked a lot about leadership in the context of abstracts – how it impacts businesses and how you can become a leader yourself. But we haven’t really talked about the things a leader needs most, and that’s followers. Without people behind them, leaders are just individual people, forging their way ahead. But when they are part of a group, a leader can inspire people to make a real difference. Being a leader isn’t just about having all those skills we’ve talked about – it’s about using them to lead others towards a bright future.
Good leaders work with their teams – not above them or in front of them – to achieve their goals. They recognise, just as The Doctor did, that everyone is important in their own way. Everyone brings something to the table that can help achieve that goal, it’s just a matter of uncovering it and realising that potential. What separates a great leader from a run of the mill manager is their ability to see all of this, embrace it and make it all happen. Great leaders offer motivation, inspiration and support, driving real change in business, and in the world.
How are leadership and control different
Think of some of the truly great leaders of the past – Gandhi or Martin Luther King, for example. Each of them had absolutely no control over anyone or anything, and yet they were able to change the course of history. One of the most common misconceptions about leadership is that it means being in control of those who follow you. But there is one key difference between the two. Leadership is about influence, not control. Control, in any scenario, is an illusion – you can’t control anyone, even the people who report to you. The only person whose actions you have control over is you. The problem is that many people assume that if you can control people, you will get the results you want, which simply isn’t true. But if you can influence people – change the way they think, make them feel certain things, then you are able to produce the results you want in a much more successful manner. Leadership has never been about controlling people, it’s always been about serving the people who follow you, helping them and supporting them to be the best they can. Great leaders demonstrate trust in those around them to follow their best judgement and meet their own goals – something that is the complete opposite of control. As leaders, we should be seeking to hone our influence to help people improve, relinquishing the idea of controlling people for good. This leads rather nicely to our next point.
Leadership vs management
There is a lot of argument over the difference between managers and leader. Because while all managers should be leaders, not all leaders are managers. A leader can be anywhere, doing anything, and still be a leader. A manager is very much the name of a position within a business – a job title – rather than something you are.
Managers, by definition, are members of an organisation who have certain responsibilities – usually focussed on planning, organisation, leading and controlling. They will have employees working under them who they are in charge of (in control of, if you will), and they will be very good at directing the everyday work of their employees. Managerial duties are usually a formal part of their job description, and subordinates follow their instructions as a result of the professional designation of ‘manager’. All managers should be leaders, but the sad fact is that many of them aren’t. Many managers instead take an ‘us and them’ approach to their teams, focussing on doing their job rather than inspiring and motivating a team. A good manager will get the job done every time but tend to have an authoritarian, transactional style that is very work focussed.
But leaders, they’re different. Leaders don’t just see ‘us’ and ‘them’, they don’t talk in I’s and look out for their own neck first. Leaders are as much a part of the team as the rest and make sure that everyone feels included, motivated and no one is left behind. They are people focussed and work in a much more transformational style to encourage people to want to follow them. Leaders tend to look at the bigger picture, driving vision and change not just in the organisation, but in their teams too. Leaders do not have subordinates who do as they say because they have to – they have followers who work with them because they want to. And a good leader never forgets that, ensuring their followers are always feeling motivated and included. In fact, Doctor Who companion Amy Pond summed up the attitude of a great leader much better than we ever could:
“Together, or not at all”
– Amy Pond