By Marcus Coetzee, 19 June 2020.
I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently – about what good leadership is and what type of leaders the world needs right now. There seems to be turmoil everywhere, but also opportunity.
While there are many leadership theories, I see leadership as helping people to move towards a positive and ethical set of outcomes. This is my bias. Leaders should strive to make the world a better place. While people like Hitler and Stalin may have exerted tremendous influence, I don’t consider them to be ‘leaders’ in my book.
I’m not a leadership expert, though I have studied and read books on the subject. Neither am I an especially good leader, though I aspire to become one.
I’m very mindful of how leaders behave and the outcomes they achieve in their teams, organizations and communities. I’m fortunate to have worked with some very skilled (and poor) leaders, and witnessed a variety of leadership styles.
I’ve noticed that good leaders are able to achieve four key outcomes. Their team members, subordinates and followers:
- are crystal clear of the leader’s intention and the rules-of-engagement;
- feel encouraged, appreciated and connected;
- have the tools, resources, skills they need;
- have enough power to make the decisions they require.
I aim for these four outcomes when I try to lead others. I’ve noticed that when leaders achieve these outcomes, their organizations become stronger and are able to adapt more quickly to their environment. The converse is also true. I’ve seen too many bad leaders cripple their organizations because they neglected one of these outcomes and/or moved too slowly.
However, trying to achieve these four outcomes has not been easy. I tend to grapple with three main leadership challenges in my work:
My first challenge is when I try to micro-manage and become too prescriptive about the details of something that must be done. This undermines the four outcomes I mentioned earlier. Fortunately, I’ve become better at clarifying my intentions and explaining what outcome I desire. I try and remember to explain the rules-of-engagement – the parameters of what must and mustn’t be done. I may need to provide some coaching or mentorship, but then I let go. When I do this properly and keep an open mind, I’m able to unlock the energy and creativity of others. I’m frequently surprised by the results.
My second challenge is when I try and hold on to tasks which can be delegated. This can make me feel very busy – like I’m achieving something. However, I can attest that this ‘busywork’ leads to burnout. There is also an opportunity cost. I get pulled down into the details of the work and diminish my ability to provide strategic leadership. When I realize that I’m doing this, I ask myself the question “what is the work that only I can do?” This incisive question usually does the trick and I find someone who can do this work instead of me.
My third challenge is when I’m angry, frustrated or exhausted. This happens when I’m overworked or feel things are heading in the wrong direction and I lack the power to influence the course. Then I lose my ability to lead in the way that I want. I lose my faith in people and my ability to encourage and appreciate others. I lose my normal optimism. I can even become destructive. I’ve been learning to recognize this state, create some distance and get some rest. This allows me to recover my perspective and influence.
These are my main challenges with becoming a skilled leader. You might share these challenges, or you might have some others.
We are heading towards some difficult times. We are being confronted by forces such as global warming, poverty, discrimination and a pandemic. On the other hand, many of us have become more aware of these problems and the need to cooperate. We have an opportunity to move history forward in a more positive direction, provided our leaders act swiftly and decisively.
While none of us know how this will ultimately turn out, we can be sure that many of us need to become better leaders. Focusing on these four outcomes will help us to remain on course.