How do I become an effective leader? This is a question most leaders ponder, and in the search for the perfect answer to what that ultimate leadership approach and style might look like, many probably realise this is not as easy as they had imagined.
Why is this? There are many reasons.
First, there are so many books and opinions on the subject it is hard to identify one that stands out significantly from all the rest.
Second, none of them seems to be the best in all circumstances, and third, some of them plainly seem to emulate the particular style of famous and successful leaders.
An effective leader is authentic
Being a leader is a daunting task with a lot of challenges and worries about doing the right things in the right way. Hence, looking for the ultimate leadership style or method to be effective in all situations is an understandable desire.
In fact, the quest for the perfect leadership style and characteristics has been relentless for decades, but has still not produced a clear picture of what that one ideal leadership approach or style is — and it probably never will!
This is because it depends on the situation, sometimes referred to as situational leadership. British leader Winston Churchill was ideal at the start of World War II, and is often credited with mobilising the war effort in Britain and leading the country to victory. But he is generally perceived to be less effective in the following peacetime years.
Ernest Shackleton has been called “the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none” for saving the lives of 27 men stranded with him on ice floes for almost two years in the Antarctic. He never got his men to the South Pole, but he got them out alive under the most extreme circumstances.
These remarkable men had very different styles of leadership, yet they were both entirely authentic as individuals. But however much you admire one particular leader, you can’t just suddenly imitate someone else’s style without coming across as insincere or fake.
Authentic leadership is about being true to yourself, to be your own person, staying true to your own values, being consistent and believing in a common purpose.
Hence to be an authentic leader, you need to demonstrate that you are able to build trust, demonstrate passion for what you believe in, practise what you preach, build solidity and ensure delivery.
When you have found your authentic leadership style and your own “voice”, you can then be inspired and learn from others, adapt to situations and apply situational leadership based on your own leadership style.
In other words, we can learn from others’ successes and mistakes — but we can’t be exactly like them, because that would not be authentic.
Therefore, it is important to understand the fundamentals of what authentic leadership means to you. You have to define your own authenticity, while appreciating how you can still learn from other leaders and your own experiences and adapt your leadership style when required.
Be an effective leader by managing yourself
Being an effective leader is not only about leading others, but also about how you manage yourself. Effective leaders are able to manage and juggle multiple demands on their time and still stay focused, without getting stressed out or losing the big picture.
This is because they have built a set of effective behaviours and habits around them, which guide them and their direct reports, team members and colleagues.
Therefore, being an effective leader has as much to do with building the most effective behaviours and habits as developing the right leadership components to effectively lead others.
Research shows you can continue to learn new skills, embrace new competencies and keep learning and adapting throughout your career.
No one is born a great leader — all great leaders grew into their role. And the most successful are those who stayed authentic.