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- By Simon Middleton
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A sure way for Business Schools to make money is to tap into the thirst for insight and knowledge around the topic of leadership.The subject has spawned a consultancy industry worth billions. Airport bookstores are crammed with titles that offer, sometimes, enlightening stories behind the apparent success. Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Margaret Thatcher, Mandela, the Amazon man, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, the South African-born enfant terrible of Tesla, Desmond Tutu, Willem de Klerk, Richard Branson…all have something written about them. They are the subject of genuine fascination, the sources of inspiration, emulation and even denigration. Two descriptors, often interchangeable seem to apply to them. They are influencers and by extension, leaders.
The association with “big names” communicates an exclusivity. Leadership is often regarded as the domain of the few – a specialism practiced in big picture circumstances buttressed by the media and in the public gaze. Leadership is understood to be “out there”, somewhat esoteric and associated with mass recognition. The single citizen only has value and influence when in aggregation – a viewpoint that leads to passivity and disengagement.
There is however another narrative. It starts with a readiness to exercise influence over that which we can rightly call our domain of authority – no matter how apparently insignificant. Leadership is personal, immediate and active. This domain can be territorial (such as my local street and the self-appointed car guards) and certainly my home, relational (those who I manage at work), my area of expertise and more.
Often times oneʼs context defines the authority. Recently I witnessed an example of sexual harassment between two staff members in our local up-market food store. I could have ignored it but it happened directly in my physical space – where I had temporary authority as a paying customer and so I engaged. This action was highly localized and generated, I hope, a realm of safety into the working environment of this store. I pick up the litter as I walk my neighbourhood streets in the morning and support the local Resident’s Association which removes graffiti immediately.
A US commentator, Bill Johnson has defined the purpose of leadership as twofold: “The purpose of leaders is to create a realm of safety and a realm of prosperity”.
Effective leadership creates a realm of emotional wellbeing which translates into engagement, a measurable commodity defined by the amount of discretionary effort given by a person in the completion of any task. “Engagement” is the polar opposite to passivity. Here are 8 leadership features that will guarantee engagement.
1. The first “sound” of leadership is silence. You have two ears and one mouth. Actively listen for context, emotion and assumptions. Open your mouth only to elicit more insight.
2. Leaders “call out” the invisible into experience – using pictures, symbols and words. Work to have a compelling vision or idea of what is desired. Be relentless in reducing your abstract ideas into visually appealing formats that culturally align with those who you lead.
3. Leaders go first into the unseen without a roadmap. You cannot expect others to go with you until you have been there first. Courage and a readiness to path find with all the attendant risks is non-negotiable.
4. Leaders transform as they transact. As you engage with others or a given situation, look for ways to bring value that releases the “other” into a different, deeper and greater sense of significance. Find out the otherʼs story. Break any system rule that is futile and senseless. Renew old ways, abolish that which traps and frustrates.
5. Leaders create emotional pathways so people can embrace a new reality with respect and pride. There are few rational decisions ever – even when dressed up as such. Assume that most decisions are rooted in emotion. The language of emotion is acknowledgement. Get comfortable with your own emotion and ensure that the emotional content of a situation is adequately managed.
6. Leaders create a “commonwealth” – which is value shared. Prosperity is more than money – it is a state of “being” where all is well – the environment is good, there is presence of predictability and accountability. It creates an environment that attracts people. It creates an environment that attracts people. Leadership in the Western Cape is judged competent by the numbers alone. “The Western Cape is experiencing a strong net inward migration – or semi-gration – of South Africans from other provinces across the country” (The Study…insights into the dynamics of the Residential Property Market, Winter 2016, Pam Golding Properties Research).
7. Leaders work to call out the identity of “the other” and, in so doing ignite extraordinary engagement. Personal security through deep knowledge of oneʼs identity, is required before one can recognize others and their value. Profound leaders know how to see the potential in others, celebrate it and ensure that it is experienced. The flow through into the use of discretionary effort is well documented.
8. Leaders know when to let go. Obvious really – but it requires self-knowledge and genuine humility to remove yourself when you can no longer add value.
Partner at NOTED Thinking