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Effective leadership


The twelve principles of effective leadership
Being a leader of others is just about the most demanding role that you might face in your career. The bad news is that there are no short-cuts to effective leadership. It's pretty much hard work all the time; often with no thanks or recognition from those you 'serve'.

As a leader you can expect people to be difficult, disruptive, unreliable and beset with all manner of 'human' failings. On the other hand people can also be loyal, resilient, supportive, creative and highly motivated!

Think of the jobs that you have had in the past. A poor boss can ruin even the best job - indeed a recent (July 1999) survey in the USA by Gallup concluded "People Join Companies, but Leave Managers". The same survey found that one in four workers would sack their own boss if they could. How many people work for you?

Equally - a leader who recognises our contribution and potential can redeem even the worst job. When you get the privilege to lead a team then make every effort to earn and deserve their respect by working hard to develop your leadership skills.

The hard work of learning to be a competent leader begins on the day that you take responsibility for others at work, and will continue until the end of your working career. Sadly, many of the lessons of leadership cannot be taught in advance - but you can practise and develop the skills of good leadership each day that you are at work.

Take stock of your leadership competence today. I mean right now! If you like the ideas below then an expanded version of this article is available to download immediately from our secure server for £4.99 inc taxes.

Take a look at the twelve dimensions of effective leadership below, and reflect on the elements that are your biggest challenge. If you can't identify one area for immediate action then work your way through all twelve - one month at a time.

Ask a trusted colleague for insights about your strengths as a leader, and for the areas that you should focus your improvement efforts. There is no upper limit to leadership ability - there will always be ways to improve. So seek insights from your colleagues, your team, and from your own judgement; observe the leaders that you respect and adopt and adapt their methods to suit your circumstances.

1. Direction - What do we have to achieve? Make it clear, specific and worthwhile! Good leaders have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. If you don't have this clear vision then by definition you cannot 'lead' anyone - you can just wander around hoping that you stumble upon your destination by chance. Even then, you wouldn't recognise the destination because you didn't have a good idea of what it was meant to be!

2. Discussion - Are you talking to people about the future, or just telling them? The key to discussion is fostering open and direct communication within the team about the goals, aims and challenges that you and they face. Introduce a little of your vision of the future to people each day at work. You don't need a big fanfare, you just need to talk about the future when it comes up and talk about it in terms of your vision and the direction that you want the team to take. Remember that you can ensure that the topic comes up regularly by talking about it yourself!

3. Demonstration - Are you really a role model to your team? Do they agree? If you want your team to perform at their best all the time, you must be a leader that they can believe in. Act fairly and with integrity at all times. Don't make promises that you can't keep. Above all, remember that as a leader, your behaviour is under scrutiny all the time that you are at work (and sometimes outside work, too). This may not be fair, but it's true - your behaviour is a yardstick for the team - the standard against which they will judge appropriate and inappropriate activity.

4. Decision - Focus on what must happen, and in what order - then "make it so". Good leaders earn a reputation for taking tough decisions, living with the consequences, and being prepared to admit that they were wrong. People will forgive your occasional mistakes easier than they will forgive you for being fundamentally indecisive. Having said that, it still means that your decisions need to be well researched, well considered, and well implemented. Above all, you must personally believe in the decisions that you make - if you don't then why should anyone else?

5. Deployment - Organise your resources - people, time and money to best effect! Leaders work hard to break large and complex schemes into manageable chunks of work that can then be assigned to others. This is also the time to think about who should do the work: what is it that only you can do?; what is it that your team should do?; which elements can be bought in from third-party suppliers?; which elements require new expertise or additional staff?

6. Delegation - Help others to help you by assigning responsibility and authority. Delegation still means caring about the quality of the result - but is also fundamentally concerned about the development and motivation of your people. This is important in order to maximise the value that you get from your team, and to maximise the value that your people get from their jobs.

7. Delivery - Monitor, motivate, improvise. Ensure that outcomes are achieved by defining and then monitoring key performance indicators. Set goals, milestones, deadlines and measures together with your team members. Don't then leave these measures unchecked, but show that you are interested (in the bad times and the good) and that you will support and help people to deliver.

8. Determination - Succeed by being fair and consistent, and with sustained effort. When the path to success becomes blocked and difficult to navigate it's tempting for a leader to go soft. It's tempting to compromise, to avoid making difficult decisions, and to ignore problems.

9. Debrief - How well did we do? Always celebrate, congratulate and learn! Good leaders create the space and time to celebrate and review their team's performance. They do this because it makes good sense to learn from experience, and because such moments are significant in the life of a team. They mark transition points in the team's life as much as symbolic moments in human life such as marriage or significant birthdays do for individuals.

10. Diversity - Foster and respect individual differences in your team. A team of individuals with different skills, strengths and experiences will always do better in the long run than a team of clones. Just watch an episode of Star Trek!

11. Discretion - Listen carefully, forgive appropriately, act wisely. You will most likely face a number of ethical dilemmas during your leadership career, and often these situations have no clearly correct solution - you will just have to use your judgement. It may be right to seek counsel from others confidentially, but the final decision will still be yours - so make decisions that you can live with.

12. Development - Grow your talents. There's no upper limit to leadership skill. Look for opportunities to grow and develop each year because the world changes and so must you.

The key to being a good leader is not to try and be a great leader at the cost of being yourself. Don't put on a show of being a leader - be true to what you truly believe. Your team will want you to be successful, and will help you be a good leader of the team if you show that you are genuine, concerned for them, and trying to do a good job in the 'hot seat'.

What's your opinion on leadership? Please let us know by emailing the editor, or share your thoughts in our forum.


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