True Leaders grow up Emotionally

It’s very easy to get turned off by this message as someone who is in a leadership position but you’ll never achieve what you could and should if you don’t persevere. After all True Leaders do persevere, its built in, otherwise they would have run away years ago.

As leaders we often review our actions against our intent, sometimes we are assured we did the right thing, other times we accept we did not and more often than most people want to admit we bluff our way through and hope no one noticed (they always do).

Success is measured in many ways

Success comes in many forms focusing on the bottom line without context to staff, clients or culture is the quickest way to end your business opportunities.

Sales, sales, sales, sales!!

Unfortunately this is not leadership and usually indicates a total lack of connection, sales in the form of new business is about building a new relationship, it’s a kind of dating having someone on the side asking if a contract is signed often destroys the relationship before it can begin. This is not the only woeful practice the 1980’s and 1990’s it still seems to drive the most shocking behaviours that for clients would send them running for the doors but internally in organisations are considered the way to success and elevation.

Success is often accidental

Leaders can just sometimes be fortunate the smart ones declare the team effort, the naive (to the pressure it creates to be right all the time) that it was all them. Regardless of how we articulate success, there is a constant drive to do new things, exciting things, to innovate and drive the organisation’s vision on. Unfortunately the people capable of original thinking are infinitesimally rare and even if the leader of the organisation had the first original idea, it may be their only one, in their lifetime.

Leading success requires different thinking

Moving forward requires a different kind of thinking then, it needs to focused on the in house team (please don’t be too hard on in house people many of them have spent years being told to tow the line and now they are being told to rock the boat instead of hide under it, they are institutionalised) and where often needed subject matter catalysts (people who don’t want a job, but want to do good work) from outside. No matter what kind of work you do, you need the voice of your customers/clients/users etc., opinionated (pushing an internal agenda) staff don’t and can’t speak for them, you need the real thing.

The next thing a True Leader needs is an open mind, remember;

If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always have what you always had. Can you maintain the past and still have a future?

Well, not exactly, you may not have the past or in fact a future if your customers or potential customers have moved on and you have not. 

A leader will listen to many voices and make a decision about what to do, great leader will accept that there are people with better knowledge and experience and use that to decide, their next best action. More they will be willing to accept that not only do they need help, but it will need other peoples playbook to deliver whatever is needed. All too often people take other people’s ideas and expect it to work for them, it rarely does. And often it will create more damage than good.

A Leader will listen and absorb the useful inputs from others a Great Leader will set aside pride and act on those inputs, using other people’s skills and knowledge. This is the reason consultancies and subject matter expert services exist.

Unfortunately ego and pride are the most common failure points in companies and no amount of marketing or technology can fix the inability of company leaders to accept that they cannot be the experts in everything and that they should not try.

Even companies that employ consultancy services may only do it for personal validation rather than fixing problems.

Growing up is painful

In all these experiences true leaders will recognise that growing up is painful and that

the only thing worse than learning from a bad experience is not learning from a bad experience and having it again when it could have been avoided completely

It is the emotions that drive some of humanity’s greatest achievements and worst experiences. Great achievements are often born from chaos where the environment is the catalyst to create something new, conversely the same is true of awful experiences. The pivot point is the person and their mental model, human capacity and connectivity and their relative maturity in shared constructs like society, communication, democracy, wealth etc.

As leaders in business, just as a leader in your personal life your maturity through relevance enables you to set value and principles around how you work with people, see their inputs and drive towards innovation, cultural cohesiveness often projected into digital convenience.

No one has arrived but true leaders know they are working on themselves, they are aligning to a common understanding of cultural context, values which then set expectation on self and others. I’ve said before and it still true, true leaders lead from the front and don’t expect others to do what they won’t themselves, they grow up emotionally and encourage others to do the same.

Growing up Emotionally for leaders means fixing insecurities by converting them into securities

In all this there is a huge amount of work to do on ourselves but the impact on colleagues is amazing. They change from working to supporting, from time focused to outcome focused because you changed from being the boss to being a colleague and a mentor.

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Core character traits of a True Leader

I’m writing this because I keep reading things written about leadership, written to sell a concept, define a behaviour or offer a service clearly written by people with no actual leadership experience. So while I can’t fix that situation I can provide some useful information on True Leadership.

Seeking a leadership role is prevalent in western business culture as leadership is associated with status, higher impact/value and higher salaries, what is most often forgotten is they also have greater responsibility and higher accountability.

Personally I have never sought leadership, I just tend to find myself in that situation as a response to wanting to get things done. Being considerate and sociable gives other people assurance that its not ego that drives me but conscience and a sense of human connection, I hope you find the attached valuable.

A leader, leads themself first – no one can expect others to trust a supposed leader who openly doubt themselves, conversely people don’t trust supposed leaders who don’t listen and are unable to learn from others. There is a fine balance in leadership between these two factors actually questioning yourself is a core character trait in true leadership, widely sharing these thoughts is not. Also learning and attitudes to knowledge that other people bring are a core character trait in leadership.

insight gained through experience and the conversion of information into knowledge is essential for successful leadership.

A true leader trusts the knowledge of the people they have around them or they would not be allowed to be close. Leading oneself is about being honest about what you can achieve and then backing it up with your own actions. For a visionary leader they will always push forward to their ultimate goal and in leading themselves they catch up other people in their dreams.

Visionary leaders push forward and in doing so catch up others in their dreams

Other leadership styles have impact and bring value by participating in and not being a watcher of activity.

A leader is valiant – true leadership is a less known experience for humanity than you might expect, the measure of a true leader is mainly seen in adversity and turmoil. A true leader is bold (not an excuse to be rude, without manners or honour) they are courageous (the act by situation of having courage) they are brave (courageous exhibit endurance, admirable, to defy, challenge, dare) and they are worthy (having adequate or great merit, character, value and are deserving). In practice this all means that a true leader is someone that can be depended upon when needed, they will support people as they need to be supported, they will challenge behaviour at all levels and they won’t run away.

A true leader like a true hero is focused on the task not the circumstances or its perils

A leader goes in front of their troops – not only in front but way forward, most people have to run to catch up with a true leader, because they are focused on completing this challenge in order to move on to the next one. And true leaders are not linear they manage and engage with multiple challenges at the same time, while explaining to and supporting their teams understanding so that they evolve their teams thinking and are able to absorb the teams insights and perspectives.

most people have to run to catch up with a true leader, the team support and learn from a true leader

A leader gathers the intelligence – they understand the current situation and wider context so their troops are not exposed to danger, but are given the opportunity to both fail and succeed. They access a safe environment to test and learn themselves, to evolve their skills and continue to add value to the team and to the leader. Intelligence is vested in understanding their business, their teams, communication skills, interactions, innovative thinking and analytics but always evaluating fads rather then being a follower of the latest idea.

Leadership is not about (positive or negative) attitudes its about passion – Being negative is not a negative thing its critical thinking without a solution, so don’t judge too harshly people who question without a solution. If we had all the solutions we could stop working completely. Other people don’t have a leaders passion about what they are working on, it’s just a fact. They can become excited but that fizzles out, a leaders passion endures, until failure or success is clear.

A leader protects their troops even at the cost of their own desires – it’s very easy as a person in a leadership activity to lose perspective and start believing people who like to have a boss (for various personal agenda reasons). But a true leader is not focused on personal marketing or myth in fact quite the opposite. They are focused on the people they work with often letting other voices be eminent, because they are not afraid for their role, only in building something that brings success. True leadership is an odd line to tread, if you support your team they grow and become more successful but many will not know you were involved, much less acknowledge the assistance. I think its a human failing, everyone needs help, but few recognise it when they get it, after that the ego takes off, but if your helping other humans for adulation you’ve missed the point anyway.

a true leader is not focused on personal marketing or myth in fact quite the opposite

A leader stays the course regardless of hardship – leadership is really hard work with loads of complex activities that need to be prioritised, people that need to be supported and KPI’s that haunt your days. That said leadership is rarely a choice its an addition to objectives rather than a thing in its own right.

leadership is rarely a choice its an addition to objectives rather than a thing in its own right

A leader stands firm with their troops and trusts them to do their job – there are many opportunities in a professional career to throw other people under a bus, but true leaders don’t. Leaders take responsibility for problems and fix them, engaging with all the people involved without preference to find out what happened to fix the process and resolve issues, then helping all to solve the problem.

Leaders take responsibility for problems and fix them

A leader builds team spirit – often forgotten but Esprit de Corps is a critical factor in success. This is not about work or working together, but about breathing the same air and not becoming intoxicated with personal success but rather seeking shared success.

A leader has followers – if you really want to find leaders, don’t look at peoples job titles find out if people follow them and engaged with them and what they really have to say about them. At least there are some people who making working an evolving experience, a safe place to learn, to challenge embedded thinking and institutionalisation. These people are worth spending time with and worth following.

Leaders make working an evolving experience, a safe place to learn, to challenge embedded thinking and institutionalisation

In summary, I hoped you enjoyed the read, I’m open to conversations with people, but I’m not selling anything so sorry if that’s your expectation.

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Karl Smith Fellow of the British Computer Society

I have just been confirmed as a Fellow of the British Computer Society.  Thanks to all my supporters.
Logo of British Computer Society Fellows
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