Most people think of leadership as something related to business and the corporate world in general. For instance, the word “leader” may bring to your mind a CEO, a general manager, a business executive, a politician, somebody who is in charge etc. Of course, this is not a mistake. Indeed, people in high-level positions are supposed to be leaders. But do they really act as leaders? And what are the characteristics of a leader or the so-called “leadership skills” one should possess in order to lead successfully?
If you think for a while, leadership can be found in everyday activities and roles we may have during the course of our lives; you can be a leader in your family, a leader in church, a leader within your colleagues or friends etc. Thus, to the extent that you are required to play an active role in something, you are leading. Hence, leadership skills are needed not only to business executives, but to the average person, in order to be able to face the various adversities of life effectively. What does this mean?
Take a few moments and think of what the opposite of leadership might be. Is it probably “followership”? Yes, it could be followership in a sense; for instance within the corporate context we have leaders and followers, i.e. subordinates, at least in the traditional pyramid-like organizational structure. But what does followership mean in real life terms?
In my view, leadership stands for one’s ability to make decisions regarding their life, whereas followership implies a rather passive acceptance of what’s happening around us with no effort to change it. In other words, leadership is about accepting responsibility for what is going on in one’s work/life. Leadership requires that you are responsible for your own outcomes, as well as for the results and the well-being of other people.
There is an abundance of research related to leadership styles -the various ways leaders communicate with their subordinates- and their impact on people’s performance and job satisfaction. The most well-known research studies are those of the Ohio State University conducted around 1945 and the University of Michigan leadership studies in 1947. They both came up with two important factors which determine a leader’s style:
Hence, a good leader should keep focused on BOTH these two elements in order to be successful. When too much interest is put on relationships, production and results suffer; when all the attention is directed towards the results / goals to be achieved at the expense of human relationships, then people suffer low morale and dissatisfaction.
The next question one could raise with regard to leadership is whether it is a matter of heritable traits, i.e. personality characteristics that an individual may possess or something that can be learned.
While certain personality traits are in fact associated with leadership such as intelligence, courage, self-discipline, verbal fluency, assertiveness, confidence, forward-thinking, openness, flexibility, trustworthiness, and integrity, on the other hand, it has been found that leadership behaviors can be learned, improved and developed by practice.
Interestingly enough, even when it comes to characteristics intuitively considered as being mostly innate to our nature such as “charisma” (one’s ability to communicate influentially and capture the audiences), research has shown that they are also learnable; in other words, leaders can improve their performance and influence by receiving training in “charismatic behaviors”, so that they can learn how to inspire their followers to achieve great things.
From a practical standpoint, as a leader you should be able to:
Moreover, a leader’s role is to inspire, motivate people and boost their performance. Below, we are presenting a list of common causes of low performance, along with some practical tips for managers and leaders:
COMMON REASONS PEOPLE ARE UNDERPERFORMING
● They don’t know what to do or how to do it
Solution: TEACH THEM
● They are afraid they will be punished if something goes wrong
Solution: ALLOW EXPERIMENTATION & ACCEPT FAILURE AS PART OF THE LEARNING PROCESS
● They don’t believe “this is their job…”
Solution: ENGAGE THEM BY USING COACHING QUESTIONS AND TECHNIQUES
● They don’t feel able, they doubt their abilities
Solution: EMPOWER THEM / TEACH THEM ASSERTIVENESS & CONFIDENCE SKILLS / PRAISE THEM OFTEN
● They don’t want to change / lack motivation
Solution: UNDERSTAND THEM / SHOW THEM YOU CARE / INSPIRE THEM / OFFER THEM A REASON –A MEANINGFUL PURPOSE.
Hence, it becomes clear that if you really want to be a good leader, to build a dynamic, cohesive and successful team, you have to decide to invest time and effort in your people!