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Would you pass the leadership test?


Paul Kennedy, HR director of global sportswear brand New Balance poses the questions every great leader should be able to answer.

Since 1990 we have operated with a calm economy, successful organisations, low unemployment and generally a good warm feeling about everything that we do.

In the last 12 months, the world has gone mad, economies are in deep recession, organisations are laying employees off, industrial unrest is gripping the country, growth in the economy is negligible and employees are living in a world of fear about their futures, thinking about their ability to continue to support their lifestyle and more importantly, their families.

The turbulance and chaos that has gripped so many organisations has been relentless and shows only a few signs of letting up: indeed, many analysts continue to forecast the worst is yet to come.

Leadership for troubled times

To navigate through these choppy waters you need great leaders. Winston Churchill once famously said: "When you're going through hell...keep going"; and therein lies the first trait of a great leader. True leadership is about leading from the front, especially amongst the chaos. Out of chaos eventually there comes normality and and those leaders who led from the front will be flexible and agile in their approach and capable of aspiring to great things.

True leadership is about never giving up and always trying to find a solution or exploit an opportunity in the market place. These leaders also need to be bold and brave. They need to stand up and make tough decisions and once they have made those decisions they need to implement them fast. A leader's biggest weapon is time and it's also their biggest enemy. Keep an eye open for those who call the tough decisions and implement with speed and keep them tagged for the future.

Employees more than ever need motivating, they need to be inspired and they need to be helped through these difficult times. They need to believe. Leaders who have integrity can create a following and a momentum which will succeed.

Leaders who focus on identifying what motivates their employees to be successful and who facilitate and create this environment for success to shine through will ultimately be the ones who stand out from the crowd. Remember as a leader you may be going ‘though hell’ but your employees are often just starting out their journey.

When you ask people what they look for in their leaders, often one key aspect is someone who can communicate.  Communication with key, consistent messages, in an open and responsive manner: spending time with people when they need the time and helping people synchronise their thoughts, their ambitions, their futures with that of their employer is a great asset to have.

As a leader you need to keep your close team around you. You see so often in life examples of where leaders have tried to go it alone, be a hero to everyone and allowed their egos to rule their hearts. Yet it should be so different.

Very rarely do leaders who set out to 'go it alone' succeed. The sum of one never equates to the total sum of a few. Elevating yourself above the chaos around you by keeping your team focused on their goals and celebrating their achievements is key to a leaders success.

Sitting alongside your team are your principles. It's very easy to lose sight of what's important  to you, what you hold dear to your heart: the things that are non negotiable when the going gets a little tough. Good leaders hold these things close to their heart and never let them go - great leaders make sure their teams hold these things close to their heart as well.

There's a lot to take in but if you really want to know how you are doing as a leader through these unique times have a go at answering the questions below. There is no right or wrong answer, just your answer:

1. Pick three defining characteristics of your personality. Ask yourself: After I have quit or retired, how will my former colleagues remember my personality?

2. If the people I led in the past had to decide upon one word or phrase to characterise my leadership style, it would be '___________'

3. If the people I now lead had to rate my effectiveness as a leader on a one to 10 scale (10 being the highest), what would it be?

4. When the people I lead compare me to other leaders in the organisation, they probably feel that I am better/worse/about equal to them

5. When I compare one by one the individuals I lead with myself, I think I am better/worse/about equal to them

Finally, the role L&D and HR play now is fundamental to creating a new band of great leaders. We identify, attract, employ, develop and retail this leadership talent and many times we are the very same leaders called upon to step into the shoes of the companies CEO or managing director. Are you the type of leader who is up to this challenge?

Have a look in the mirror and discover what you can see.

Paul Kennedy is HR Director of global sportswear brand and running specialist New Balance.

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