POWERFUL and transforming leadership is a freely woven tapestry of both hard and soft skills, but foremost among these must be a sincere appreciation of the privilege of leadership.

Faced with the prospects of a bigger salary, improved tangible benefits and increased status — which often accompany increased seniority — it is natural that people tend to define seniority (leadership) in terms of the things that are of personal benefit, while paying lesser attention to the responsibilities and privileges attached to those benefits.

The risk is that leadership may come to be defined more by the rewards and the benefits it bestows rather than the responsibilities it demands and the privilege it confers.

It is time for those in leadership to be reminded of the privilege and responsibility of leading others, and to reflect on how they are doing so in their own areas of activity.

What is privilege?

Typically, managers/leaders see themselves in a pyramid structure — the higher they climb, the more power and influence they can exert.

Such an approach tends to revolve around “me” and “what I get”, whereas leadership must primarily be about “what I contribute”, “how I develop others” and “what ongoing valuable contribution I am making to the business”.

Real leadership is determined by value-added and objective wisdom provided rather than position and prestige.

When we speak of “privilege”, it simply means that the decisions, conduct and behaviour of a manager have ramifications far beyond his immediate staff.

An unmotivated, poorly treated employee is not confined to the factory or office. He goes home to a spouse and children, who feel the pain of his stress and emotional disappointments.

Suppliers and customers also feel the fallout of a boss’s poor treatment of staff.

The converse is true in a positive way: a senior person’s influence goes further than most understand. Families are content, suppliers are treated fairly and customers are appreciated.

Leaders of companies who wish to be instruments for powerful change in their organisation, community or society need to appreciate that they are frequently the most, or co-equal important other, in the lives of their staff.

A word of affirmation, or of discouragement, creates far greater ripples than they may ever have intended. If their words are deceptive, dishonest and destructive, they can be devastating.

Three key virtues

Powerful and transforming leadership from a behavioural perspective is a combination of three key skills or virtues:

1. How one manages negative and potentially destructive emotions

The first virtue requires well-developed emotional maturity.

The ability to sit on negative frustrations and manage surges of destructive feelings until they are under control is a discipline of fundamental importance among leaders.

2. How one encourages and affirms others

The second virtue involves a pro-active stance concerning the encouragement of colleagues.

The most amazing truth is that the power of affirmation is not rocket science and it does not require a degree in psychology.

Perhaps that is why it is underestimated — it is not complex enough!

Just reflect for a moment on how you have felt following a sincere word of appreciation or compliment from your immediate or more distant superior.

When I ask a similar question in the training room, the overwhelming response is always the same: “I felt motivated; stimulated; enthused to do more, even to try harder.”

3. What sort of inspiration a leader provides

The third virtue involves the type of inspiration you are to others. Inspiration is largely dependent on who and what you are as an individual.

Leadership used to be very hierarchical. Hierarchy is being replaced by a more consultative and engaging attitude towards staff.

Inconsistent lifestyles and duplicity in behaviour do not inspire and motivate others.

The evidence that supports and confirms the positive effects of affirmation and encouragement has been well documented, but one of the more recent findings was published in The Carrot Principle by management consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.

Organisations where the environment was positive, affirming and encouraging performance, versus companies where such traits were absent, showed between one- and three-fold better performance on return on assets, return on equity and operating margins.

If these positive outcomes are measurable, why is sincere affirmation, coupled with the values mentioned earlier, employed so sparingly?

The truth is, you can change your department within 30 days with sincere, realistic praise and encouragement of others, accompanied by integrity of behaviour.

If the current situation is bad, it will improve to least average. If it is good, it becomes great. If it is great, it becomes excellent.

Powerful and transforming leadership involves having a clear vision, integrity of heart and attitude, skilful communication abilities and a willingness to focus on others and their needs.