The subject of leadership has been a mainstay in many roundtable discussions among organisations that are concerned with the prospects for business development.
The new millennium was ushered in by several tumultuous world-changing events – both natural and man-made that permanently changed the global business landscape since the days of The Cold War. Literally, walls came down; political, economic barriers were thrown out and social, cultural differences were bridged. The world has undergone transformation; a process that has no end in sight and where more turbulence is expected. In times like these, organisations and people look for leaders.
What makes a good leader?
Within conference rooms, Human Resource symposiums and through the avenue of an impromptu survey, we could collate a myriad of definitions and character traits of a good leader. The basic definition of leadership is simply someone people will follow. The larger question in the context of leadership is what makes people follow one person and not the other? A good leader carries qualities that encourage or inspire people to follow them. They do not make people follow them – people follow them on their own volition.
Are leaders born or made?
Perhaps a question that leads to spirited discussion much in the same way as The Chicken and Egg debate is whether good leaders are born or made. There really should be no discussion here. Leadership is a function of one's experiences; the values that have been instilled in them by their his social circles and how they have coped with the challenges in every aspect of their life.
When an individual is born, leadership training begins with the choices made, consciously or unconsciously. Parents nurture children with values and provide the surroundings or the environment from which the traits that spur leadership are cultivated and harvested. So when a child explores their environment outside their primary social circle, these innate leadership skills are tested through encounters and new experiences.
Leaders are never born they are always made
Can anyone become a good leader?
Anyone can become a good leader. It all starts with you. If you can accept who you are; your strengths and weaknesses, embrace the existence and reality of dealing with failure in everyday life and respect the individuality and uniqueness of the people around you, the foundation on leadership upon which you stand is strong.
If anyone can become a good leader, can a good leader become a great leader? Again the answer is a resounding 'Yes'. Life is full of obstacles; the more obstacles we overcome the greater our level of leadership becomes. To take on an obstacle or a challenge presents risks and leaders are those people who take risks for the purpose of attaining a greater goal.
In the face of an ever-evolving global business environment, companies need great leaders more than great managers. A leader assumes complete responsibility and accountability for the decisions that they make. Just as a soldier accepts the reality of death on the field of battle, a leader acknowledges the reality of failure in every decision that is made. Thus, they have a better focus and can see things clearly and objectively. This is why some of the more iconic business leaders we have are also considered visionaries.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, the late Steve Jobs of Apple and Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group. Their businesses continue to thrive amidst the sea of turbulence because they fearlessly navigate through turmoil and find opportunities.
So what can I do to become one of the great business leaders?
1. Be comfortable with yourself
Take a look at the person staring at you in the mirror and acknowledge everything about him or her. Review all of your strengths, weaknesses, competencies, deficiencies, positive and negative qualities then conduct an honest evaluation of what you need to do to become better. Forget the notion of perfection. In these times of turbulence, perfection is not important. Adaptability, flexibility and mobility are more crucial qualities to have. Embrace who you are and understand that the journey to where you want to go, what you want to do and how to get there all begin with the most basic question, 'Who are you?'
2. Align your Values with your Purpose and Vision
The term core values is largely misunderstood and often abused by companies that only want to have default content on their website. Core Values are more than just words on a manifesto or a web page. These are the guiding principles that allow us to make the decisions we need to do in every facet of our life. Thus, our core values should be non-negotiable; under no circumstances should they be compromised. Aligning your values with your purpose and vision creates a stronger message and builds stronger organizations because it presents powerful reference points on how decisions are processed and made. People see and acknowledge your purpose and vision the way they see and acknowledge you. An aligned organization stays together, remains on course regardless of turbulence or the challenges that lie ahead.
3. Trust your people
As mentioned in these times of constant evolution, adaptability, flexibility and mobility become the important qualities of a business. These qualities are found in only one asset within the organization and this asset is in fact, the most valuable yet most overlooked component for business development: people.
Companies spend millions in acquiring the latest tools and processes but hardly invest a fraction of their budgets for capital improvement on the human resource. This is because the unpredictability of people makes businesses wary of them. Machines can be controlled; people cannot. But the truth is, the unpredictability of people makes them the ideal catalyst for change because they can adapt, become flexible and mobile.
Leaders trust their people. They include them in the decision-making process because they value their inputs, acknowledge their victories, condole with their defeats and understand the success of the endeavor has repercussions on the livelihood of their people. Great leaders learn to trust their people because they want to develop future leaders who can manage their areas of responsibility without fear. In any organization the differentiator will always be people.
4. Have Passion
When you have passion, people listen because your energy drives the message loud and clear. It resonates and reverberates through every fibre and every being of every person who listens to you. Passion is contagious; it brings the productivity level of every person in your organization several notches higher. In times of trouble, it carries you through and helps you persevere through all the different challenges. There is nothing you will not do to achieve your goals. And the fuel that drives the engine toward success is passion. When you read up on the lives of great business leaders like Richard Branson and Air Asia's Tony Fernandes the love they have for what they do shines through in how they lead their companies and manage their people.
5. Be Committed and Deliver
The number one reason people dislike politicians is because campaign promises often end up empty; just an eloquent way to win votes. In business, eloquence is not meant to win votes; they are meant to win trust. If you want people to follow you, be committed to lead by example and deliver or follow through with your promises, assurances or guarantees.
In the Old Economy, sales people are regarded as front liners; they are the first line of communication with consumers. In the New Economy, these lines have been re-drawn. Leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves and get in the trenches with their sales people. There is no work that is beneath a great leader. It's not about showing people how it's done; more than that it's showing them how much you value and appreciate their hard work and that they are equally important components in the value chain.
Everyone can become a great leader in business. All it takes is the willingness to be one and the dedication to become one.