In difficult times, a company’s leadership can often make or break the future.  Great leadership can inspire a workforce, even through times of crisis. Morten Kamp Andersen, one of the foremost leadership trainers in Europe, offers his expert advice on how to harness effective leadership.  

Are you leaders ready?

What is leadership and why is it important now?

Today, strong leadership is more critical than ever. Employees are being asked to work harder and for longer; against a backdrop of change and job uncertainty that puts pressure on staff motivation, engagement and productivity.

There are many definitions of leadership. Peter Drucker said that “the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers”.  Of course, in a leadership role, you are likely to have formal power, but formal power will only get you so far. Real leadership comes from making people want to follow you.

In this way, leadership is distinctively different from management – in terms of inspiring and motivating people. While a managers also often have the responsibility to focus on implementation, staffing and operational matters; a leader must resist the temptation to fire-fight and remain within day to day matters, and always maintain a helicopter, strategic view. Great leadership can make employees motivated and engaged – the most important ingredient for companies to have today.

What is the difference between a good leader and a great leader and how do I get there?

Most people intuitively recognise (and have experienced) good and poor leadership. But it’s not as easy to identify what makes a great leader. What are the building blocks required for such a characteristic?

If good leadership is inspiring, motivating and engaging employees some of the time; great leadership does this continuously – bringing out the best in the workforce, even during times of austerity. One of the key components is the ability to transmit self-confidence to others, enabling them to take positive action. Contrary to what many may think, great leaders don’t focus solely on themselves.

Taking steps to becoming a great leader requires that you must know yourself, and your vision. You must communicate it well, build trust among your colleagues and consistently take effective action to realise your leadership potential. Key things to keep in mind are:

·           Communicate – Inspire others through listening as well as speaking

·           Build a great team – You are only as good as the people around you

·           Develop your team – Help staff perform at the highest level of their ability

·           Be confident – Create a strategy and believe in it to make your followers feel secure and confident with what their leader is doing

How can managers lead their team through times of austerity to maintain performance?

Times of austerity certainly call for a different type of leadership. The basic ingredients are the same but it is how the leadership is exercised that matters.

In times of growth and abundance, most employees are self-motivated – confident, looking ahead, positively engaged and committed to their workplace. In times of hardship, people are asked to work harder for less, with the added fear of job security. As a result, employees often find themselves with lower intrinsic motivation for two reasons:

  1. Many organisations wrongly over-manage during such times. Budget cuts are made, processes sharpened, and employees warned if they think creatively or make mistakes.
  2. The second reason is fear about the future – of changes ahead and uncertainty. Engagement could suffer greatly as a reaction to this (natural) fear.

Great leadership therefore demands a dimension of fluidity to influence people’s motivation and maintain a high level of performance. Such leaders continually adapt to the context and environment. The research shows that in times of uncertainty and crisis, employees are increasingly looking to their leaders for social clues. In short, lead as you wish others to follow:

·         React decisively and strongly – do not hide from or avoid the issues

·         Exercise your leadership – be present and lead the way

·         Frame challenges in positive ways that enable others to act

·         Give people a purpose to work

What are the specific considerations for a technical specialist transitioning to a leadership role?

Leading others requires a very different set of skills and activities to those of a technical specialist. A key transition is the change of focus away from the task, project or problem and onto the people.

There is also a question of balancing the roles of manager, leader, specialist and coach, which can lead to a team that is focused on meeting deadlines, following processes and being effective, but lack an essential sense of purpose and inner drive to perform to their full potential.

What are the consequences of poor management on an organisation and its employees?

Great leadership benefits all stakeholders in an organisation, including its shareholders. The Institute for Strategic Change concluded that the “stock price of well-led companies grew by over 900% over 10 years compared with 74% for poorly led companies”.

On the other hand, the consequences of poor management are potentially very destructive to shareholders, employees and customers alike.  One of the most documented results of poor leadership is the link to higher employee turnover, sickness absence and lower productivity. A key finding in employee satisfaction surveys shows that low overall job satisfaction often correlates with dissatisfaction with the leadership.

So you can see how great leadership is not merely a ‘nice to have’ but rather an essential component of a successful, buoyant business. I often see the return on any investment in good leadership development as rapid and significant; the business case is hard to ignore.

What does the perfect leader look like and does he or she exist?

The honest truth is that there is no perfect leader. A great leader in one organisation or context may be ineffectual in another. Frustratingly, great leaders cannot be quantified in terms of age, gender, education or any other factor.

Many great leaders share common characteristics which, as long as they are adapted appropriately to the environment, constitute powerful leadership. They include vision, communication, enthusiastic, confidence, and decision making, all of which can be learned.  We all possess leadership potential, just as we have some ability to run or dance. Some people may be better than others, but we all have a starting point to build on with training and practice.

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