What does Leadership mean to you?

Many authors write on the subject of leadership and yet we still see 'interesting' leadership approaches in the workplace.  The problem is that I see leadership conflated with management all too often.  It frustrates me that to some people, giving clear direction is perceived as micro-management.  If I was telling people exactly how to do their jobs, e.g. code it explicitly this way, or delivering a blow by blow account of how they should be interacting with someone, then sure, that's micro-management.

It helps to begin your leadership journey on the right foot.  Create a strong vision and start the connection with your teams and the business on the proper foundation.  Give people have a clear understanding of your why.  In my case, provide them with a clear vision of what my end-game is.  When you do those things, articulating the mini-objectives within that overall vision makes it much easier for people to get on board and see what their piece of the puzzle is.  From personal experience, I play the long game (interjected with frequent delivery).  When you're building something big, you may not be able to play the puzzle pieces in the perfect sequence you need.  Sometimes you create things that would appear to many people to be unconnected, to be shooting off in many different directions.

The thing is, they're not.  While each has a small piece of short-term benefit, some have a much larger play that when combined far exceed the individual slices.  I can't state it strongly enough.  When the team comprehends the pieces they've built start to form part of the bigger whole, they'll go "OK, this guy sees the bigger picture, he know's where we're going, maybe I'll trust him a bit more".  Then the real magic starts to happen!


Context is important

I've been at a team building exercise where we saw two competing themes, one that promoted the why, and made it clear why that person was in the organisation and why people should follow them. Supporting the 'Why', made it clear what it was they wanted to build and were people prepared to help them develop that vision for better customer experience.

Another part of the business brought in a 3rd party speaker that challenged the use of the word 'Why', and treated it as though it was a wrong word.  The problem, in this case, was context.

This message of the 'Bad Why', presented by someone already coaching and supporting high-performing teams referred to challenging people's mistakes in an environment that was already healthy.  These relationships had already built on trust, had already constructed a shared understanding of the true 'Why'.

'Why' is a powerful word as it helps us and the people around us understand things.  Many will be familiar with the 5 Whys to establish the root of a problem, and the 'Why' aligns strongly with strategy in the context of Enterprise Architecture.


The fundamentals for me are

  • Be clear with vision and be passionate about it.  If you don't believe in what you're doing, then why should your team, your business or customers believe in anything that you're trying to build.  Doing this right becomes infectious!
  • Be clear about your principles and ethics.  If people know where they stand with you then, trust can form and blossom.  With greater confidence in yourself and with the team having greater faith in you, you can deliver earlier and often because you don't need to gum up the works with unnecessary processes.
  • Get out of people's way when they try to help others.  It's frustrating watching managers in their ignorance, blocking great things from happening.  Sometimes you have to let people follow their trajectory.  Sure, guide them, assist them (definitely help them), but don't stop them from helping others!

I overheard an interesting side comment involving the All Blacks and their coaches.  You'll often hear business people talking about 'Outcomes' to get people to articulate what they want.  The All Blacks are very processed focussed.

They centre on performing the core method better each time they do it (kaizen).  The All Blacks focus is no different to the Japanese craftsman who spends an endless day, weeks and years sharpening blades.

You try doing that without knowing why.

Also, if your team can get that little bit better every day, guess what happens

Tony Sinclair