“Leadership” is a magic word that strikes many people. We often see job ads, even for fresh graduates, requiring candidates to have leadership skills. So, what is “leadership”? How can we nurture it?
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What is “Leadership”?
A dictionary definition of leadership refers to “the ability to be a leader or the qualities a good leader should have” (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary).
Over the years, there are many attempts trying to define “leadership”. Below are some selected examples:
- “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal”. (Peter Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice)
- “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization” (Department of the Army of the United States, Army Leadership and the Profession)
- “an influence relationship among leaders and collaborators who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes” (Joseph Rost, Leadership for the Twenty-First Century)
No matter how literature defines “leadership”, it can hardly get away with the word “influence“.
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What is affecting your ability to influence?
Before going into how to nurture leadership, we need to understand the factors affecting “influence” – Authority, Charisma and Circumstances.
- Goal: There must be a meaningful goal. If it is too personal, say buying yourself a nice sports car, it is not possible to get at least a few like-minded people.
- People: The people you are trying to influence can have very different qualities, such as hard-working, lazy, smart, stubborn, eager to learn, etc.
- Time: It takes time to show your charisma among the crowd.
Being (appearing) reliable and professional brings charisma. This implies the ability to give constructive advice and balance the interests of different stakeholders and members of the group.
How much authority do you have among the members you are trying to influence?
This can come from your position in the organisation or the people who are at your back supporting you.
You may have to succumb to people who have authority but without charisma.
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How can we nurture leadership?
There are many ways to nurture leadership. Here, we will discuss three to-do cornerstones.
1. Create the consensus
What is the goal? Does the group have the consensus to work towards the goal?
A leader will have a very clear goal in mind. If there is not such a goal, set one.
You will need to make the goal known to the people you are trying to influence. You will also need to convince the people that the goal works, give them confidence and motivate them.
Only when the people truly recognize your goal and fight for it can you get the empowerment as a leader.
2. Continuous learning
You may think some people are born with charisma, either because of the way they speak or the way they handle things. But this is not right. They acquire it through continuous learning.
Know what you are doing – the bigger picture and the key steps of achieving the goal. For example, you cannot decently lead a project on streamlining the company’s supply chain if you do not have a clue of how that part of the business works.
But this is not enough. You will also need to have general knowledge and sense about other matters that may come along the way. For example, if you are running a business, you will not only have to know your business well but also a general idea of compliance and finance framework. This strengthens your ability to foresee and respond to challenges.
Be sensitive to external challenges. A good leader will need to lead his team to thrive in competitions. Speak more to different people and read industry and relevant news every day. Ignorance of market conditions can screw the whole team-up.
Be flexible and open-minded. To be a leader of an outstanding business, you have to be adaptive to new things. Taking suitable risks to move a step ahead of your competitors is a must to survive well in the market. For example, if you run a physical food store, try offering online ordering.
3. Be fair, reasonable and predictable
As time passes and business grows, there will be conflicts in the team. Say, who is to work overtime? Who is to take responsibility for certain tasks?
Be fair, reasonable and predictable. A good leader will have to understand what the stakeholders have in mind and build confidence among them. This communication process takes some time but it is worthwhile. With this, you can make a more informed decision when conflicts happen.
Be ready to sacrifice. As you are the one allocating tasks and organizing other arrangements, you must be ready to take up more than anyone else in the team. Doing this can show you are actually contributing but not simply delegating work.
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Perseverance is the key to leadership!
A goal, and likewise leadership, cannot be achieved overnight.
You will need to persevere, apply your leadership and make every effort to achieve the goal. Concrete track records are powerful to further support you are a good leader. We do not know whether Bill Gates is actually a good leader but we would want to join his team because of his track record in building Microsoft.
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