Here we are, on the last of our three articles on leadership! If you’ve missed them you can read the first here and the second one here. Throughout this series, we’ve been taking Doctor Who as a focal point for the qualities that make a great leader. And why not? Fictional characters are the culmination of our aspirations for what we mere humans can be – and the Doctor offers many great lessons on leadership we can emulate.
So this week we’re continuing our Doctor Who theme, looking at the qualities of a great leader and the reasons why otherwise good leadership can fail.
Five qualities of a great leader
1. Leadership with vision
The thing that sets a great leader apart from others is their ability to see the big picture. A leader will look to the future, trying to find ways to change and improve the status quo. Beyond having that vision, a good leader will share that vision with their team, communicating it clearly and pursuing it passionately at all times. Their followers are driven to achieve that vision out of loyalty to that leader, working harder, striving further and living that vision every single day through the work they do.
2. Leadership with purpose
There is nothing worse than realising you’re following someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. A great leader doesn’t just wander blindly forward – they know exactly where they are going, and more importantly, why. A leader’s purpose is the unique impact we are trying to make, and it’s the driving force behind every action they take. A great leader will be able to demonstrate their purpose and pass it on to those they work with, giving everyone a common goal to work towards.
3. Leadership with heart
Too often, business is all about doing what your head tells you to do rather than your heart. But leaders are perfectly positioned to put humanity, compassion and purpose into the workplace. But only if they lead with their hearts, as well as their heads. Even if they are being hounded for results, a great leader will be able to apply compassion and empathy to deal with every situation they come up against. The Doctor is a fantastic example of leading with your heart as well as your head. He is constantly following his emotions, considering the emotions of others and working with them to improve things, using the logical thinking along the way. He also recognises, as all good leaders do, that everyone needs helping hand sometimes.
“There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.”
— The Eleventh Doctor
4. Leadership with integrity
Integrity means telling the truth, even if the truth is ugly. It also means standing by your principles, no matter what the cost. Integrity is one of the big reasons many choose their leaders. If someone believes that the person they are following has integrity and can be trusted to follow their word, they are more likely to throw their lot in behind them. But if a leader demonstrates, through word or action, that they aren’t true to their word, then the following can be shattered. So, when you commit to do something, it’s crucial that you follow through with it. Keep your promises, don’t go back on your word and stand true to your principles at every step. This will sometimes mean passing up on business opportunities that don’t fit with your ethics, or making a personal sacrifice to ensure you can keep a promise. If you can achieve that sense of integrity and keep it, you are on your way to becoming a great leader.
5. Leadership with humility
And finally, never let the fact that you are in a position of power impact how you act. All too often, leaders forget about other people, becoming too grandiose in their own heads. But a great leader will never brag about their achievements, but rather share the credit to all who deserve it. They will be open to others opinions, tend to others needs, admit when they make mistakes and never think that they are ‘too important’ to get involved. Some of the very best leaders this world has seen are the ones who have never been afraid to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. If you need an example – just look at Barack Obama. The president who was never too busy to take a selfie with a fan, act in spoof videos or let a child feel his hair.
When leadership fails
“Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t. Blink. Good luck.”
– The Tenth Doctor
Ok, so The Doctor was talking about the Weeping Angels in this quote, but honestly, it applies to leadership just as well. You see, failure isn’t always easy to spot, especially if it’s happening to you. It’s all too easy to do, ruthless in its efficiency to pull you down from your leadership role, and it can happen very, very fast. If you haven’t got your eye on the ball, it’s very easy to start spiralling into becoming a bad leader, down to not being one at all. Your team will lose their faith in you, and soon you find yourself with nothing and wondering how. And we’re not even exaggerating that much. Leadership failure can happen to anyone, at any time, without any warning. But it is preventable if you know what to look for.
Four reasons leadership can fail
1. Leadership without integrity
It’s really simple – there is no leadership without integrity. The easiest way to lose your standing as a great leader is to compromise your integrity, go against your values or make decisions that go against the trust their teams have put in them. Any business owner who misleads their employees, stockholders or customers, who act in their own interests or who go against the principles they claim to stand for forfeit their right to be a leader. This is where a lot of businesses fall down – they don’t think their employees, or their customers will notice this going on. But employees notice everything a leader does and hold them to a much higher standard than others. Without integrity, there are no followers for you to lead.
2. Leadership without vision
There is nothing worse than following a leader who doesn’t have a clue where they’re going. It’s demoralising, and it leaves you wondering why you’re doing anything you are asked. Without a clear vision, you are unlikely to set clear, consistent goals for your team, which will only deliver sub-par results. Different units in your business will only focus on what is important to them, instead of the bigger picture, and soon you will be pulled in multiple different directions as everyone tries to figure out what direction to go in. In short, your entire business will be acting in silos, with no one at the helm keeping everyone focused on the end goal. Or, as The Doctor would say:
“Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman.”
– The Eleventh Doctor
3. Leadership without trust
Trust is the foundation of any leadership position. Building up trust with your team can take a lot of time, but it can be shattered in minutes. Whether it’s promising them a promotion and never delivering or signing off on a day off and then revoking it, once that trust is broken it’s almost impossible to claw it back. And if people don’t trust you, you will never get the results you want, and your team morale will suffer hugely.
4. Leadership without ethics
However, you define, the common threads are a sense of fairness and a core set of guiding principles, such as truth, justice, honesty, responsibility, and selflessness. Ethics is the grounding that allows one to make decisions on behaviour and actions. An ethical leader is one who operates within a core set of values and acts accordingly in any given situation. But if you set out these ethics for yourself and your team and then act against them, or worse simply don’t have any ethical principles to speak of, you are proving yourself to be selfish, with no respect for the values of those you lead. In short, you lose all credibility and your leadership fails.
Taking your leadership to the next level
“There’s always something to look at if you open your eyes.”
– The Fifth Doctor
Unfortunately, leadership isn’t really a ‘destination’ as such. You don’t aspire to be a leader, only to get there and stop because you’ve ticked the box. Instead of being a great leader is an ongoing process and one that takes a lot of drive to achieve. There are plenty of good leaders out there, but many more still who are striving to take their leadership skills to the next level. If this sounds like you, then there are a few resources out there that can help you.
As we’ve mentioned one or two times, the best way to learn how to be a great leader is to learn from the experience of others. So, on top of talking to the leaders in your life, you may want to invest in some coaching. A coach can help identify your weak spots (since they are easier to see from the outside) and work on the areas of leadership you are less confident in. With ongoing support and advice, a coach can help elevate your leadership potential far beyond what it could be alone. You could also try masterminding. If you’re not familiar with it, a mastermind group is simply a meeting of highly motivated people who share a common goal and are looking to encourage and help each other improve. So, if you know a few people who are looking to improve their leadership skills, get together as a group and share your experiences and knowledge. Everyone will bring something different to the table and you will learn some new skills.
And finally, the most common way to boost your own leadership skills is to discover what the truly inspirational leaders of the past and present do. That means doing a bit of reading, and we recommend you focus on leadership biographies and autobiographies. If you have a figure in mind that you look up to and respect as a great leader, hunt down anything they’ve written and see how they approach things. You can then attempt to bring those approaches or ways of thinking into your own leadership style. If you’re not sure where to start, a few we would recommend are:
- The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming The American Dream by Barack Obama
- Finding My Virginity by Richard Branson
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseih
- Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie
- Churchill: A Biography by Roy Jenkins
These are just a few of the thousands of inspirational biographies of great leaders, both in business, their careers and in their personal lives. All their wisdom and experience is out there, waiting to help you take your own leadership skills to the next level. All you need to do it reach out and take it.
A new perspective on leadership
“The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles”
– The Eleventh Doctor
You’ve probably all worked for a variety of people, some good, and some not so good. But, great leaders all share similar characteristics, and that’s what makes them great.
Effective and successful business leaders inspire, motivate and lead their staff to work together towards a common goal, achieving more than they ever could alone. With a clear vision for the business, set out by the leaders, staff will understand where the business is going, how they fit into that picture, and how the goals will be achieved with their help. They inspire by being honest and leading with integrity. By building trust with staff and customers, and not letting people down. As a leader, if you let someone down, you don’t get a second chance.
So, if you want to be a good leader, appreciate your team and make them feel valued. Of course, it’s easier to be positive and encouraging when everything is going well, so at times this won’t be all that hard. However, the test of a good leader is when things aren’t going so well. Managing problems by remaining calm and positive, whilst also seeking solutions, is the difference between you being a boss and a leader.
Throughout his 900 years flying around in the TARDIS and 55 years on our screens, The Doctor has taught us a lot. Almost too much to just sum up, in fact. But if you are looking for a distilled version, there are 3 key lessons in leadership that he teaches us with every single episode:
1. Never Shy Away From A Challenge – There is not one challenge The Doctor has faced that he has backed down from. Even when he knows it would be for the best, even when his companions are screaming at him to run away – he steps up to face the challenge in every single episode. Often faced with doing the impossible under severe time pressure, under the threat of a doom that will often not really impact him personally, he steps in to take on the role of leader, assuming responsibility for those he’s hoping to save. And he doesn’t stop fighting until the challenge is won. A good leader won’t back away when faced with something difficult or potentially upsetting – they dig in with both heels and get the job done.
2. Always Assess The Situation And Adapt Before Taking Action – No matter what disastrous thing is happening, The Doctor will always take a moment to assess the situation before he makes a decision or changes the plan (while usually shouting “THINK!” to himself). As a classic situational leader, The Doctor will quickly assess whatever environment he is in and paint a picture for his companions to get them (and us) up to date on the situation. He identifies the key stakeholders in every situation (even those in disguise) and applies a combination of diplomacy, empathy and confidence to his engagements with victims and aggressors in kind, before taking any form of assertive, decisive action. Taking that moment to work it all out and think before he acts always saves the day, and it’s something we don’t do nearly enough in our business lives.
3. There Is Always Time For Fun While You Work – No matter how dire their situation seems to be or how much pressure he and his team are under, the Doctor always finds a way to lighten the situation. He will play a small prank on his companion, make a joke at the alien antagonist’s expense or overdramatise his actions for effect (like in the Girl In The Fireplace, where he pretends to be drunk to distract the aliens and save Rose). Most importantly, he is happy to laugh at himself if any of these things backfire, deal with the fallout and return to the situation at hand. Life is hard and stressful, but laughter is the best tonic of all, so make sure you are taking advantage of it and having a little fun.
Even if you’re not really a fan of the show (in which case I apologise for such a long article on it!), you can identify with those lessons. Tough decisions sometimes need to be made in business – it’s part of the job. These decisions require an authority and finality that will not please everyone, but must be made in the best interests of the organisation. In the words of The Doctor:
“Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose”
– The Twelfth Doctor
A good leader will be able to make these decisions, no matter how bad or hard they might be, and ensure that the changes are implemented properly throughout the organisation. They will be available to listen to their employees, and do what they can to help them through the transition. Communication and listening skills are a vital part of your role as a leader. Just pretending to hear things and taking no action doesn’t work, and will cause you to fall flat on your face 9 times out of 10. Listen, take appropriate action, and communicate the outcomes effectively. Ultimately, keep your passion and vision at the front of your mind, and don’t forget to be passionate about people about their goals too. If you are approaching your working day with these attributes, then it sounds like you are already halfway there.
‘We’re all stories in the end… just make it a good one, eh?”
– The Eleventh Doctor