When CPA Australia Geelong Branch collaborated with the Australian Institute of Management to bring 23 leaders from here in Geelong to meet with me last Thursday morning, November 10, to discuss how to empower leaders for an uncertain future, we gathered in the shadow of the election of Donald Trump as President of the US overnight. The American people had shocked the world in deciding what leadership they wanted for their country.
It just highlighted how contested a concept leadership is, but also, as the world went into panic mode about how this unpredictable leader of the free world would lead, it also made clear that leaders are makers or breakers, and the fear was that Trump would be not just a breaker but a massive disrupter.
There are all kinds of theories, ideas and beliefs about what makes a great leader. When I went on to Google and typed in What is Leadership, in 33 seconds, Google threw up 464 million entries. Yes, 464,000,000 entries!
Here was I about to reduce the topic to 5 skills!
- Work/Life Integration,
- Emotional Intelligence.
I also wanted to talk with these leaders about why they wanted to lead, a question few leaders ask themselves, and even fewer answer. This is about their motivations and aspirations. I wanted them to check out how authentic those motivations were and what the challenges to them were. I had come to believe that developing and enhancing these 5 soft skills for leadership would equip them well to manage whatever challenges they faced in leading their teams and organisations.
Why did I think these 5 skills were so important and how did I see them empowering leaders?
Self-Awareness has become a very important skill for leaders. It’s about knowing ourselves, what makes us tick, what motivates and drives us. It’s about knowing our strengths, but also knowing our weaknesses and where we are most challenged. It’s about knowing and understanding the impact of our leadership style – for better and for worse – on those we are leading. It’s knowing what we are feeling at any given point and why we are feeling that way. It’s about facing fears, doubts and anxieties and managing them. Self-Awareness is at the core of self-leadership. If we cannot lead ourselves, we cannot lead others. Self-Awareness is the road that leads us to self-mastery. I made it quite clear to these leaders that making this a priority in their leadership development was a must.
In a VUCA world, where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity reigned, no more sharply pronounced than with the election of Trump the night before, Resilience is paramount for leaders. Being able to bounce back from adversity, from things coming unexpectedly out of left field, or actions on a world stage over which we have no control but which impact significantly on our lives and our organisations, is very challenging. How long does it take you as a leader to begin to move on and past an adverse event or experience? That’s a measure of your resilience.
Resilience goes hand in hand with Pro-activity. When leaders are faced with those VUCA events what helps them bounce back is a pro-active mindset, rather than a reactive one. Pro-activity is about being solution focused and forward thinking, about having a “can do” attitude, and being a glass half full person. Pro-active leaders take initiatives. They don’t wait for instruction from above. They choose to act, rather than be acted on. They do not blame circumstances or other people for what happens in their lives. They assume responsibility for it and for changing it. They always look to themselves first for answers. They are not afraid to look inside themselves to discover where they have fallen short. They do not stay there, however. They quickly work out what they need to do to create a new and different outcome and they act immediately.
They act with Emotional Intelligence. With well developed self-awareness, they are very aware of what they are feeling in the situation they face. They have learned how to manage those feelings in a pro-active way that sees them able to lead in a way that motivates and inspires their teams to work with them through this situation they all face. They are also aware of how this situation is impacting their people and are sensitive to their emotions. They acknowledge those and respond with reassuring pro-active communication that builds trust in their people. They are able to contain their negative emotions when some people challenge or threaten them, and respond in constructive ways. They lead their people in a way that sees everyone prepared to work together for the best outcomes possible in the situation.
What enables leaders to develop, enhance and sustain leading this way is their Work/Life Integration. No longer do we talk of work/life balance, that concept from another time where we aspired to separate our work from the rest of our life and balance those two parts equally. Leaders now carry around in their pocket 24/7 their office in the form of their smart phone, that mini computer that holds more power than the rocket that sent men to the moon in the 1960s. Leaders today need to be very clear about what their priorities are, what their negotiables and non-negotiables are, both at work and outside work. what is most important to them, based on their values and their goals. Note that their values and goals need to be aligned if they are to be successful leaders. Leaders need to be able to manage their energy to work in this challenging new work environment so paying attention to their body, the vehicle which will take them the distance, needs to become a top priority. Diet, exercise, relaxation and re-charging are not nice-to-haves but not necessary. They are critically important to leaders’ ability to sustain the leadership style they espouse.
It’s always a highly charged, empowering and inspiring experience for me to engage in an interactive workshop with leaders like we did last week. The value lies not just in what I have to give, but in my ability to facilitate the sharing of the knowledge and experience of a room full of experienced leaders. It adds such richness.
One participant, Michael Simms,a leader with DP World, summed up the workshop this way:
“Your course today brought to my attention exactly what is lacking in leaders today and knowing, if I can improve on those skills, I am opening up doors in my career path that weren’t previously thought of. The way you related the necessity to have strong soft skills in leadership roles to my business was a credit to your delivery methods. Your vast knowledge across the leadership requirements in today’s business landscape was a wonderful experience to tap into.”