The Essential Quality of Leadership by Mark Wager
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The essential quality of leadership
By Mark Wager
When I do leadership workshops up and down the country I get asked a lot of questions. Without doubt the most commonly asked question is what is the most important quality for a good leader? In this article I’m going to answer that question and explore why it is a quality that most leaders unwittingly ignore.
When you meet a great leader you get a sense that they are passionate about what they do. They have honesty and integrity. You feel inspired, motivated and you want to work with them not just because they have asked you to but because you want to. All of these types of leaders share the same quality and it is this quality that is the important aspect of every leader. That quality is authenticity. Every great leader is authentic.
An authentic leader is not necessarily a natural born leader. Authentic leadership means leading in a natural way. The leader becomes not just the leader they were always meant to be but also the person they were always meant to be. During my experience as a trainer I have helped develop many leaders and each of those leaders have a different style. The authentic leaders are the ones that have a leadership style that naturally suits them.
The most common mistake I see from new leaders is that they have just been placed in a position of responsibility and in many cases are managing people for the first time and what happens is that they seem to have a vision in their mind of what a leader should be and they aim to become that person. Whether it is a previous manager who they considered to be successful or their present manager, they try to mimic them or sometimes try to apply lessons from leadership books. Without knowing the theory of leadership this is of no use. The team just doesn’t quite get them. They don’t think they are being completely genuine and even if they don't articulate what it is that's lacking the team gets a feeling that there’s something about their leader which is just not right. The leader is trying to be a particular template of a leader rather than being the leader who they really are. Authenticity works but trying to be someone who you are not doesn’t.
This all sounds really good and I think no one will disagree that someone being genuine will always be more influential than someone who is not but is it that easy? On one occasion I was delivering some advanced communication training to a group of leaders. As a bit of background in the advanced communication training I teach how to adapt your communication style to suit the audience and I demonstrate how certain techniques which are employed by leading politicians and CEO’s can cause a significant variance on how people react to important communications. During the session I was asked a very sensible question “Mark, you tell us we need to be authentic yet you are teaching us how to adapt our communication styles. Aren't the two theories contradictory?”
It’s easy to see why they might seem to be contradictory but they are not. Whenever you talk about adapting communication styles the images of manipulating and spin doctoring comes to mind. Yet the truth is we are misunderstood on a daily basis. Every time we communicate there is a huge risk of someone misinterpreting what we have said. In fact in my experience approximately over 90% of all HR complaints arise from miscommunication. Someone has said something which someone else has interpreted in a way that the speaker never intended. In my experience less than 10% of all incidents involving complaints resulted from someone purposely trying to upset or offend someone. So ask yourself the next time you are misunderstood by someone and they take offence, are you being genuine? You may well be who you are but are you being authentic? If you didn’t mean to offend someone then the chances are you were being authentic. Being authentic is taking away the layers of management and allowing people to see who you really are and in a lot of cases that requires work and adaptation. The trick is not adapting too much so normally you will find a 10-15% stretch within a 6-9 month period is as much as anyone can expect while still remaining authentic. Adaptation and change is good and every great leader never stops learning and never stops growing. We just need to make sure that when leaders grow they always remain true to who they are. In my personal case I know no matter what I do no matter how many articles I publish I will always go back to my humble beginnings while growing up in Birmingham when I learnt the biggest and most valuables lessons life can teach and for that I will always be grateful.
The journey to being authentic is long and hard and many leaders never make it but for those few leaders who stay on the path the rewards will be priceless because as the journeys end you won’t just become the leader you were always meant to be but you will become something more and that is you will become the person you were always meant to be.
“Manage from the head, lead from the heart”
A genuine thank you for taking time to read this article. Im fascinated with leadership and what makes people successful, I'm interested to hear what you think about this article and your views on the subject so feel free to chat with me on my Twitter account below
About the Author:
Mark Wager is an international author and one of New Zealand's leading experts on leadership. Mark specialises in developing leaders and teams through mentoring, coaching and team building workshops. To contact Mark please use the enquiry form below or connect via Twitter
Posted: Monday 14 October 2013