I’m not suggesting you should never focus on leadership development, but there is an order to the process that most effectively begins with developing yourself.
The more developed you are as a human being, the greater the nuance and sophistication you can bring to your leadership.
Think of leaders you have worked for who seemed to possess only one way of leading, irrespective of context or the individuals they were leading. Or leaders who lacked courage to challenge under-performance. Or whose ego development was so immature that their behaviours flew in the face of the expressed values and culture of the organisation.
All these examples have a simple but not necessarily easy solution: develop the human being first, then you can focus on developing their skillset with a much greater chance of producing sustainable change.
Over nearly five years, my co-author David Pilbeam and I have researched the human characteristics that are essential to effective leadership. Using thematic analysis we identified five broad categories of strengths that the most effective leaders possess:
Brilliant leaders place a high value on their professional relationships with others, especially with those they share goals with. They are generous and never too busy to help colleagues with their challenges. They fit in well to different social situations, and know how to put others at ease. These leaders exercise a sense of duty and social responsibility for the good of the organisation and are humble about their achievements.
If you constantly challenge yourself to think of new ways to do things and are rarely content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible, then you possess another essential foundation of great leadership: a spirit of discovery. Effective leaders seek solid evidence to aid decision-making but are able to change their mind in light of new information. They enjoy learning new things.
Strong leaders have an appreciation of the good things that happen and never take them for granted. They always take their time to express their thanks. They are positive about the future and believe that their performance is controllable. They see the lighter side of challenging situations too. They have strong beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of their work.
How do you tend to respond when the going gets really tough? If you rise to the challenge then your leadership skills will benefit from the fact that you possess plenty of determination. Effective leaders have a clear sense of what is right and wrong. They work hard to finish what they start and are not easily distracted. Regardless of what they do they approach it with excitement and energy.
Excellent leaders often forgive mistakes and give people a second chance. They are careful people who think things through before acting. They do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let their accomplishments speak for themselves. They consciously regulate what they feel and what they do, and are in control of their emotions. Treating all people fairly is one of their guiding principles.
If you spend time working on these five areas, how you demonstrate effective leadership will improve markedly.
Glenn Wallis is a leadership coaching expert and co-author of new business book Leader iD