Everyones a leader now

Great leaders motivate, coach and develop their staff to take the initiative and show leadership themselves. Stefan Stern reports on how to acquire these sought-after skills

Nobody is indispensable though as far as your team is concerned it is tempting to believe that you are. The danger is that if you encourage the belief that you are irreplaceable, you create a dependency culture where people wait to be told what to do.

There is a tendency for leaders to feel that, Ive got the pips on my shoulder, its my job to lead, says John Ashford, a consultant at the Leadership Trust. This is the view of leadership which says that we have to squeeze our people into a certain pattern, and thats what management is all about.

This mind-set has to be challenged for several reasons. Leaner organisations mean that higher levels of performance are required from everybody. Competition demands that staff are more creative and innovative, that they dont wait for instructions when it comes to satisfying customers or solving problems. We are all self-starters now. This means that staff have to take more responsibility for their work and show leadership themselves.

But how are people supposed to know that it is all right for them to take the initiative and even take risks, or that it is acceptable for them to make honest mistakes as long as they learn from them? This is where leaders need to deploy coaching skills, to let their people know that leadership can come from them too.

Some managers make very good coaches, says Sue Cox, currently HR director at merchant bank Schroders, but shortly to set up her own executive coaching business. Initially this comes from within. You need to understand your values and your strengths and understand what impact your behaviour has on people, she says. Coaching techniques can help people help themselves. In other words, your team will understand that leadership is not about rank or job titles, it is about what you do and how you behave.

Ashford agrees. We get requests all the time to do work on this, he says. We need people at work to be as effective as possible, but often we are getting perhaps only 50% of what they are capable of producing. Leaders have to be able to coach their people to deliver more, he adds.

At Tesco, group learning director Kim Bernie says that developing leadership skills is a crucial part of training and development for all staff. We have competency frameworks for both the individual and their manager, which include leadership measures. People assess themselves against a personal development plan to discover what their training needs might be.

Tesco uses Ken Blanchards situational leaders model there are times for leaders to be directive but also times when leaders need to be highly supportive. The leadership we aim to develop involves taking people with you, says Bernie. It is about communicating, motivating, coaching, developing other people and yourself.

You are not indispensable. As a leader you should be preparing your team to take the initiative. As Ashford says, in the most effective and high-performing teams, you often cant tell from the outside who the formal leader is. Or as Chinese sage Lao Tzu put it, Leadership is best when the people say, We have done this ourselves.

Good leaders guide

What leadership means:

  • encouraging people as much as directing them

  • understanding that anyone is capable of providing leadership regardless of position

  • having clearly understood (and demonstrated) values

  • getting the organisation off peoples backs so that they are free to achieve more

What it doesnt mean:

  • telling people what to do or think

  • suppressing creativity through fear and intimidation

  • waiting for everyone else except yourself to provide a lead

  • blaming people for making mistakes, and for never having any good ideas