Rules to powerful leadership

Written by
Changeboard Team

20 Jul 2011

20 Jul 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Set an example

Leaders have an obligation to set a compelling example by incorporating a set of values, attitudes and practices not only at work, but in their personal lives as well.  This will mould you into the kind of person your employees or peers would like to emulate or follow - encapsulating the very definition of “leading by example”.

There is no one-size-fit-all, pre-formulated pill to effective leadership. However, since much about it can be learnt from emulating others, we benchmarked and examined some of the best leaders in the world to develop the “5 Rules of Powerful Leadership”.

Practice what you preach

It may be a very simple rule, but surprisingly not an easy one to follow. More often than they realise, there are discrepancies between what the management preaches and what they actually do. Such discrepancies might even seem insignificant, but could potentially cripple the credibility of your leaders and management.

For example, if you preach work life balance in your company and then set targets that require your staff to work long hours, it comes across as insincere. Or if you stress a “promote-from-within” culture but keep recruiting from outside to fill the senior level positions, your employees will eventually lose faith in your leadership.

The CEO of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn hit the nail right on the head when he commented, “I personally believe the best training is management by example. Don't believe what I say. Believe what I do."

Walk the tightrope

Tony Blair once said that the art of leadership is saying no - because it is actually easier to say yes. There are times when being a leader requires sound judgement and the ability to make tough or even unpopular decisions so that things can get done. It could be firing an incompetent manager, cutting costs to reflect a healthier bottom-line, or even standing up to top management and fighting for your employees’ interests.

People look up to their leaders for directions so that they know where to go and how to get there. The difference between a leader and a boss is that a leader leads, clearing all obstacles along the way, while the boss simply drives where he is told to go.

Lyndon B Johnson, America’s 36th US President, could not have articulated this rule any better: “It's the price of leadership to do the thing you believe has to be done at the time it must be done.” A good leader walks a tightrope at all times, balancing between the consent he must win and the control he must exert in order to move the organisation and his people to the next level.

Be a good follower

This rule is not usually touted in leadership books, but it is one of the most underrated and critical aspect of leadership. The Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle believed that “He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander.” Followership is the crucible of leadership. All of us will be followers more often than we will be leaders.
The best way to learn is to be a good follower, and constantly benchmark yourself against those whom you aspire to be.

As you emulate the best leaders and learn from their success, you also learn to adjust your responses accordingly to your seniors and the situation at hand, and gain insights on how to communicate with your staff. As a follower, you learn to support and advocate good leadership, and at the same time, understand what constitutes bad leadership and what people are looking for in a leader. A good follower can effectively shape and have a positive impact on the leadership of the company by keeping them on track.

It takes a lot of courage and integrity to be a good follower, and people who live by these rules will not only be effective staffers but will also be well on their way to becoming leaders of character. That is probably why good followers usually make the best leaders.

Treat your people as assets

It is important for leaders to acknowledge that they are not perfect, and very few have all the gifts and talents themselves. But one common trait among great leaders is that they have a strong self-awareness of their strengths and capabilities, as well as the confidence to surround themselves with great people who can complement them, and compensate them in areas where they are lacking. According to Jack Welch, GE’s visionary ex-CEO, a leader's role is to impart vision and a healthy corporate culture, build great people and great teams, and show them how to lead.

A good leader should also intentionally intervene, coach, mentor and influence people to perform at their best. Exercising leadership also means being able to powerfully articulate your vision and inspire your people to rally around it. It is easy to force or demand someone to do what you want them to do, but it takes a visionary person to be able to spot the potential in his/her employees, raise their aspirations for what they can become and make them want to achieve these visions for you.

The former First Lady, Rosalynn Carter said: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go but ought to be.” Your people should be constantly challenged to reach their full potential and make a difference, not only for the company but for themselves as well. When a leader takes that much interest in his/her employees’ future, there is little doubt who they would willingly follow.

Assess yourself regularly

Leadership is a constant, on-going process of learning and refining your management styles, influencing skills, approaches and understanding of the people working with you and for you. To lead effectively, you need to stay ahead of the game all the time, and be highly adaptable to changes and shifts in trends and attitudes.

Regular self-assessment will not only keep you on track, it also provides great guiding principles in your leadership duties. Do you take responsibility when things go wrong, and turn the spotlight on the people around you in good times? Do you delegate tasks that should be yours, or do everything yourself and delegate nothing? Are you a constant example to your subordinates and peers in terms of your demeanour, character and attitude? Have you done all in your power to spur people to do their best, and incentivise/encourage those who haven’t? Do you allow people to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them or are you quick to blame?

Lead & learn

Ultimately, there is no cookie-cutter template for leaders and the best ones usually developed their own style of carrying the torch over the years. The challenge of powerful leadership is to find the style that fits you best - and allows you to adapt to any situation, whatever that may be. As John Fitzgerald Kennedy astutely observed: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”, you will find there is indeed some wisdom in those words.