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Lead yourself to lead authentically

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 10:25

Guest post by AIM CEO Daniel Musson

At the heart of our business is the idea that things work better if the leaders and managers who operate them have the right training, network and focus.   

We've all had the experience of working with someone who demonstrates poor management or leadership, even if we can't always diagnose the reasons why they are less effective than the good leaders and managers we're around.

I often get asked what characterises leadership. While I don't have all the answers I do spend a lot of time thinking and talking about it, and if nothing else, I hope I encourage more thought or discussion on the topic.

What I’ve learnt in my various experiences is that before you can lead others you must first lead yourself.  Understanding the values that you hold true, the things that make you the unique human being that you are, these are the building blocks of your ability to lead others effectively. 

Too often we abdicate leadership of ourselves because we have a bad boss.  We throw up our hands and say "this isn't right but if that's the way the boss wants it, well I'll do as I'm asked and the boss will get what they're going to get." 

Leading yourself means not giving up that responsibility. It means not compromising on your values and beliefs about what the best course of action.  It means leading by demonstration - the more you demonstrate your commitment to your values through the consistency of your application to them, the more others will recognise you as a leader, not a boss. 

Leading yourself is not about charisma, being extraverted or even intelligence. To me the foundation is being able to understand yourself and taking 100% responsibility your success. This I believe gives you the platform to lead others authentically.

If the foundation of quality leadership is leading yourself, the purpose of leadership is to lead others.  This is the reason the study of leadership, the search for the magic formula if you will, even exists.

Great leaders are able to get better outputs for the same input. It’s the 1+1=3 as great leadership defies the laws of physics. I wish we could bottle the secret formula at AIM and sell it vending machines all over the world.  The fact is that although the formula that defies physics is clear, and even measured, there’s no simple formula for leadership success because ultimately businesses, government departments and community groups are really just a collection of human beings, serving customers who are also human beings.

The individual differences in our backgrounds, experiences and values means there’s an almost infinite number of different interactions that can occur within our organisation. Having said that, there are some things that we know from experience and research can help you achieve the magic formula:

  1. Leaders are visionaries - I don't mean all leaders are futurists trying to act like they have some sort of crystal ball, but they do have a vision for a better company or better outcomes for their customers or colleagues. They can imagine a better tomorrow and are inspired to achieve that new world.  This trait is becoming so important. As the pace of change seems to constantly accelerate, businesses, government departments and community groups need to constantly reinvent themselves. We need to constantly re envision a new business or a new way.

  1. Leaders are communicators - I don't mean they give orations or sermons, but they communicate in their way, sharing their vision for a better tomorrow, gathering new ideas and empowering others to think about how they can contribute to that new vision of tomorrow.

  1. Leaders are fearless - The number one worst thing a leader or boss can do is to have their decision making paralysed by fear of making a mistake.  You can't be fearless unless you know yourself, what you know and what you don't know, what you value, and your commitment to lead yourself. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Roberts Smith for the August edition of the AIM Magazine and when I asked him about his transition from the SAS to corporate life, he said one of his greatest lessons was that the SAS taught him how to manage fear. Here was the winner of the Victoria Cross admitting that at times we're all scared, but it’s how we manage that fear that makes us a leader.

Leaders know that not everyone is going to agree with their vision - We're rarely faced with a black and white, right or wrong answer - those ones are so easy.  We're more likely going to be asked what is more right, or less wrong??  The greyness in this means that others will have a view, sometimes contrary to your own. Sometimes they'll be openly critical, more likely they'll do something way worse - they'll be deliberately obedient!!!  Just then the equation goes from 1+1=3 to 1+1=1 and a half!  Your effectiveness can go into the negative - don't waiver, constantly changing direction can be just as limiting as not making a decision in the first place.  Stay true, listen, communicate, adjust if you have to, but be authentic. Making a mistake is mandatory - fail fast, fix it and move on. If it's not a catastrophe it’s just a speed bump. Keep moving toward your vision for a better tomorrow.  People will respect that you stick your neck out for what you believe and your actions will encourage them to do the same.