I was once asked: “Why do you always insist on taking the hard road?” I replied: “Why do you assume I see two roads?” (Unknown)

The temptation for managers to look for short-cuts in their respective leadership endeavours is pressing – increasing customer demands, sometimes unrealistic labour union expectations, pressure from the competition, shareholder needs, issues relating to product relevance and efficacy, etc. To crown it all, employees don’t always share managers’ leadership aspirations, let alone assist in the realisation of the company’s goals. The leadership task seems like an uphill battle!

As the manager moves up the leadership levels in an organisation, behaviour becomes all important. Technical skills have already been demonstrated and have indeed probably provided the entrance ticket to get into a leadership position in the first place. As everyone else at these upper levels is also qualified, the only differentiator becomes behaviour – limiting or empowering conduct that makes for bad or good leadership. Marshall Goldsmith, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, names four bad habits that could derail your leadership attempts:

  • Winning “too much” – the need to win at all costs and in all situations, when it matters, when it doesn’t and when it is totally beside the point. Many managers struggle with differentiating between the battle and the war, often mistaking every battle for the war.
  • Withholding information – the refusal to share information in order to maintain the advantage over others. Ultimately, the job for leaders is to ensure that all employees have access to the right amount of relevant information in order to optimise their work efforts successfully.
  • Not listening – the obvious notion that people don’t like working with others who simply don’t listen or who talk over them. Goldsmith calls this the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.
  • An excessive need to be “me” – the development of a false belief that because we’ve proved our success being who we are, others have to take the bad with the good. By not making excuses for weaknesses, we demonstrate humility and vulnerability. If not, we communicate that we simply don’t care that employees have to deal with all the bad that we offer them in order to work with us.

Authentic leadership insists on taking the hard road of behavioural excellence – the only true way to garner trust and build meaningful and lasting relationships with employees. This behaviour includes, amongst others, the following actions:

  1. Shaping a better reality – leadership is not a position, but rather empowering people to discover and use their potential effectively. Leaders must take responsibility for making decisions and bringing change.
  2. Setting an example – influence-ability comes from the development of character and competence. Character consistency enhances trustworthiness as a leader.
  3. Chasing vision, not money – without vision, activities become meaningless. Vision inspires action and accountability. Sales and subsequent profit follow consistent behaviours aligned to the vision.
  4. Caring appropriately – actions speak louder than words, so demonstrate tangible acts of kindness and care.
  5. Living the values – flexibility, a good trait, applies to style depending on a context, but not to values. No matter the situation, values should never be “customised” to suit leadership endeavours.
  6. Communicating effectively – listening well and answering with expressions of dignity. Engage with employees deeply and honour their ideas. Keep them informed.
  7. Admitting mistakes – mistakes prove that you are acting, doing something, but these actions need to be analysed and improved. Demonstrate that you are wise enough to learn from your mistakes.
  8. Maintaining team loyalty and respect for each other – team cohesiveness and team spirit are essential ingredients for successful task completion and overcoming difficulties together. Never stop developing the team.

There are no short-cuts to leadership effectiveness – true leadership is focused on providing a nurturing environment for a growth in maturity towards effective people dynamics. The hard leadership road inspires trust, develops a shared vision, enables others to act and encourages their hearts.

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