WHEN people think about leadership, they will undoubtedly turn to their senior management to provide it.
This also means that these leaders have an obligation to set a compelling example by incorporating a set of values, attitudes and practices not only at work, but in their personal lives as well — in other words, “leading by example”.
There is no one-size-fit-all, pre-formulated template to effective leadership. However, since much about it can be learnt from emulating others, a study of some of the best leaders in the world revealed these five rules of powerful leadership.
1. PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH
It may be a very simple rule, but surprisingly not an easy one to follow. There are often discrepancies between what a company’s senior managers preach and what they actually do.
Such discrepancies might even seem insignificant, but could potentially cripple the credibility of your leaders and management.
For example, if you preach work-life balance in your company and then set targets that require your staff to work long hours, it comes across as insincere.
Or if you stress a “promote-from-within” culture but keep recruiting from outside to fill the senior level positions, your employees will eventually lose faith in your leadership.
CEO of Renault-Nissan Carlos Ghosn hit the nail right on the head when he commented: “I personally believe the best training is management by example. Don’t believe what I say. Believe what I do.”
2. WALK THE TIGHTROPE
Former British prime minister Tony Blair once said that the art of leadership is saying no — because it is actually easier to say yes.
There are times when being a leader requires sound judgment and the ability to make tough or even unpopular decisions so that things can get done.
It could be firing an incompetent manager, cutting costs to reflect a healthier bottom-line, or even standing up to top management and fighting for your employees’ interests.
People look up to their leaders for directions so that they know where to go and how to get there. The difference between a leader and a boss is that a leader leads, clearing all obstacles along the way, while the boss simply drives where he is told to go.
3. BE A GOOD FOLLOWER
This rule is not usually touted in leadership books, but it is one of the most underrated and critical aspects of leadership.
The Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle believed that “he who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander”.
The best way to learn is to be a good follower, and constantly benchmark yourself against those whom you aspire to be.
As you emulate the best leaders and learn from their success, you learn to support and advocate good leadership, and at the same time, understand what constitutes bad leadership and what people are looking for in a leader.
4. TREAT PEOPLE AS ASSETS
One common trait among great leaders is that they have a strong awareness of their strengths and capabilities, as well as the confidence to surround themselves with great people who can complement them, and compensate them in areas where they are lacking.
According to Jack Welch, GE’s visionary ex-CEO, a leader’s role is to impart vision and a healthy corporate culture, build great people and great teams, and show them how to lead.
A good leader should also intentionally intervene, coach, mentor and influence people to perform at their best.
It is easy to force or demand that someone do what you want them to do, but it takes a visionary person to be able to spot the potential in his/her employees, raise their aspirations for what they can become and make them want to achieve these visions for you.
5. ASSESS YOURSELF
Leadership is a constant, on-going process of learning and refining your management style, influencing skills and approaches, and understanding the people working with you and for you.
To lead effectively, you need to stay ahead of the game all the time, and be highly adaptable to changes and shifts in trends and attitudes.
Regular self-assessment will not only keep you on track, it also provides great guiding principles in your leadership duties. For example:
Do you take responsibility when things go wrong, and turn the spotlight on the people around you in good times?
Do you delegate tasks that should be yours, or do everything yourself and delegate nothing?
Are you a constant example to your subordinates and peers in terms of your demeanour, character and attitude?
Have you done all in your power to spur people to do their best, and incentivise/encourage those who haven’t?
Do you allow people to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them or are you quick to blame?
The challenge of powerful leadership is to find the style that fits you best and allows you to adapt to any situation, whatever that may be.
As the late US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy astutely observed: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”