Mid-last year I accepted an invitation to address a group of police counter terrorism commanders on the subject of leadership and in preparing my notes I realised that trying to simplify and define the subject was a task fraught with danger. After all, I was sure that this specific audience would already have strong opinions on what they would call 'leadership' based on their own very individual experiences and knowledge of people they considered to be leaders.
Searching all things leadership online, much of what I found suggested that leadership was increasingly being defined in a variety of ways to suit an industry or context. What I wanted was to identify some fundamental elements that could be applied in any environment but especially to my audience.
Fortunately, I was able to call upon a handful of genuine experts on the subject, close friends from all over the world who I consider to be the real thing. So, I sent out a quick email, setting the scene and inviting their thoughts. When I eventually gathered and reviewed their responses, I found that they had all kept it simple, refining their thoughts to just a few key elements - without a single piece of corporate jargon to be found! Ultimately I extracted from the mix three core elements that provide a foundation for any leader in any context: 1. Competence, 2. Empathy, and 3. Courage.
I'll keep the explanation short but essentially, a leader must absolutely know what they are doing, what they are responsible to achieve and, above all, they must instil confidence in their people to trust their judgement (Competence).
Also, a leader must lead by example. They must understand fully what they are asking of their people and understand the impact of their decisions upon them. To do so requires an ability to put themselves in their people's shoes (Empathy).
Finally, having set the course and prepared and resourced their team, leaders must then trust their people to carry out their tasks without interference (or allowing others to interfere) with the plan once 'action' has commenced and, having done so, they must be prepared to stand by them no matter what the result or consequences (Courage). Put more simply: "Back 'em or sack 'em" as my Father-in-law says.
That's it in a nutshell and if I try to capture that all in a quote, I'll go with this one: "Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out."- President Ronald Reagan
When I eventually delivered my address I focussed on these three core elements, along with quite a few other issues, all of which, I'm relieved to say was met with a particularly positive response. So, I'll leave you with one final quote which I also included that evening.
"There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision. Its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculation, of statistics, of methods, timetables and routine; its practice is a science. Managers are necessary. Leaders are essential." - Viscount Slim of Burma
Until next time, I'd appreciate your thoughts, questions and comments: what does leadership mean to you?
All the best,