The Good Leader Cheat Sheet
It’s Ok To Be Emotional
A horrible cloud hangs over women suggesting being emotional is a bad thing – as if it makes you unstable. But Nicola Porter, Executive & Career Coach at AllBright, says you should view this as one of your leadership strengths, not a weakness: “You can and should show emotions as a leader – just don’t be a hostage to them. It’s about balancing the ability to be authentic without spilling your guts all the time. There will be times your team need to hear your passion, or your frustration, or your excitement. You are not a robot, you’re a human being – but they don’t need to hear your anger with your CEO, or you sobbing in the loos about an argument with your partner. Be clear on what is and isn’t appropriate and professional.”
Don’t Stop Learning Because You’re At The Top
So, you’ve made it to the top, you’re at the pinnacle of your career. That doesn’t mean you need to stop learning or developing your skills. No matter where you’re at, you’re always going to need to keep changing and growing your skillset – otherwise where’s the challenge? “No-one, no matter how brilliant they are, is ever the finished article,” explains Nicola. “We can all benefit from furthering our skills. Particularly now in these exciting but incredibly challenging times – the world in which we work is complex, fast moving, innovative and uncertain. So all of us, especially leaders, need to focus on developing skills with which to navigate these challenges and opportunities.”
Be A Good Communicator
Being a good communicator is integral to being a good leader. How you communicate with others is an indication of your leadership style and how easily approachable you are. “Look at politics for proof of how communicating well or badly impacts an audience and their levels of trust and motivation,” says Nicola.
To be a great communicator, you need not only to concentrate on what you say, but how you say it. It’s all very well knowing what you’re talking about, but if you can’t communicate it with confidence, then it won’t mean anything. Here are some tips Nicola often gives to her clients:
- If you’ve got something tricky to say or write, start with a clear head. Go for a walk for 10 minutes or come at it when you’re fresh and you’ll have a better perspective.
- If you’re still not sure, call on a colleague to sense check your approach.
- If it’s a one-to-one communication, remember to check the person has understood what’s being discussed or asked for and what the deadlines are.
- Aim for a style that’s succinct and direct – don’t waffle, don’t apologise (unless you need to). Keep it simple and straightforward.
- Practice active listening. Most people are terrible at listening. When we think we are listening more often than not we’re thinking of what we want to say in response. Pause that noise in your head. Really tune in to what is being said and ask for clarification if you need it. Sometimes it helps to repeat back what is being said.
- Learn to read the non-verbal communication. The look on someone’s face, their stance, a change in their breathing, what they’re doing with their hands – we all communicate so much without saying a word. Being able to read a person or room in this way will really help you hone your communication
You Don’t Always Need To Get Involved
“I think this is often one of the areas people find challenging when moving from managing to leading or directing,” says Nicola. “It can be comforting to stay involved in everyday activity if it’s what you know. Of course, no-one wants a leader who is clueless about the workings of the business or who is totally unapproachable, but it is categorically not your job as a leader to get stuck into the day-to- day with everyone. Your role is to set the direction of the business or team and plot how you get there.” If there’s a crisis you will need to get involved, says Nicola, but this should be unusual not a regular occurrence. And if it’s not? Then you might need to take a look at how you’re working and make some changes.
You’re Not There To Be Everyone’s Friend
It can be hard to make that transition from peer to leader. It’s particularly difficult to realise not everyone is going to like you in that position. But you are not there to make friends – you are there to be the boss. “Be clear with yourself early on in your leadership journey, that as a boss, you are not there to be everyone’s best friend,” advises Nicola. “That doesn’t mean you have to be cold and keep everyone arm’s length. You can still be warm and approachable but there’s a line around roles, responsibilities and respect you want to establish. Don’t be that boss that gets drunk with the juniors in the pub every Thursday and pounces on all the office gossip.”
Work out what kind of boundaries work best for your leadership style. “You might want to schedule in regular catch ups with your direct reports, but be clear you won’t constantly offer to help the team,” Nicola continues. “Or that you’re happy to be consulted on issues but not to do other people’s thinking for them. If you communicate or model these boundaries clearly, confidently and consistently your teams will know they have your support and what’s expected of them.”
Take On A Mentee
A really rewarding experience to try during your time as a leader is mentoring someone – particularly another woman. “I’d encourage any leaders to make time to mentor someone else but particularly female leaders,” says Nicole. “I think we have a responsibility to give all women a leg up – it’s the fundamental principle on which AllBright has been built.”
Be Enthusiastic And Positive
It’s great when a boss has energy and passion for their work and projects – but it’s important to keep that energy in check. Nicola agrees: “I think one of the less discussed areas of leadership is how important it is for a leader to manage their energies. We’ve all met people whose passion and drive are utterly compelling. And we’ve probably all also encountered bosses who can drain the room or leave people totally unmotivated. So get used to checking in with yourself and reading your mood and energy – particularly before an important meeting or event. You don’t need to become a rictus-grinning cheerleader but you will invariably find your teams are more motivated by a boss with a positive and enthusiastic energy. Of course, you won’t always feel this so you will need to put your game face on sometimes. But again, if you’re not feeling it most of the time you need to look at what’s going on for you.”
Nicola’s three top tips for being a good leader:
1. KNOW AND WORK ON YOURSELF
Many people new to leadership copy the leadership styles they’ve experienced. Be clear on who YOU are as a leader and what’s your own authentic approach. Understand your strengths and play on them. In areas where you don’t feel you’re as strong, reach out for more support or development. (The AllBright Academy is such a brilliant programme to polish every element of your leadership – and it’s free.) Remember to team up with those who do have the strengths you may not have. No one is brilliant at everything and that’s ok.
2. BUILD IN A SUPPORT NETWORK
The further you progress in leadership, the lonelier it can sometimes become. You’ll always benefit from a good mentor or coach but think about who you can use in your existing network as an ally or sounding board. Meet with them regularly.
3. TAKE TIME FOR YOU
Time and time again I see women who are so focused on climbing the career ladder everything else falls by the wayside. This is miserable and unhealthy, but also unsustainable. Make time to see friends and family. Schedule in exercise. Take holidays. Read. It will refresh you, re-energise you and help you keep perspective. It takes some discipline but if you’re a leader you already have that discipline, you’re just applying it to other things.
Time to think is actually a hugely important element to work into your job – you should be diarizing it regularly. That means not tackling the To Do list but actually taking time to look at the business or your role as ask yourself some provoking questions – where are we going/am I going? What’s the real value this business is/I am bringing? Is the focus right? Are the goals big enough? What would we/I really love to do?! Do that often enough and you will fly.
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