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New Year – New leaders – Old Advice

Resolutions for New Leaders (and some old ones)

For many years I always looked forward to the start of a New Year and the first January inductions of new staff. I especially looked forward to the management inductions. A new crop of first time managers arriving into work on their first day, wide-eyed and eager. Their nervousness reflecting the seriousness of the task of leadership yet their innocent arrogance dispelling any concerns that they were not up for the task and that success will follow naturally if not automatically.

Standing before them I extolled the virtues of the organisation and its values and shared in its history and future expectations. I then outlined the culture of the organisation and the type of leaders we needed to bring further success to our company. After I finished and before the health and safety briefing on manual handling numbed their energies, I always gave them the opportunity to ask me any questions they might have. I can’t ever recall the magic question not being asked, sometimes it was one of the bolder and more aggressive of the bunch, and sometimes one of the more nervous but without fail someone would raise his or her hand and ask the one question I knew would be coming:

“How can we make sure we are one of those managers you described that this company needs?”

From the first time I heard this question when I worked for an international textile organisation to most recently in the Health Sector I still get the same thrill when I hear those words. The door was opening on my opportunity to embed the true virtues of exceptional leadership. Without hesitation, I always replied, “It’s very simple just remember three simple words: humble, hungry, hurry.”

Leaders develop a variety of habits throughout their careers, some more helpful than others and hopefully most adding to the workplace experience for both them and those they lead. However, in my opinion for success to be guaranteed (and I have tested this with some of my greatest and some of my worst leaders) three simple habits are required to be present in the activities of leaders and influential in their decisions making.

Three little words – Three giant challenges

Be Humble – when donning the mantle of Leadership never forget you are just one cog in a wheel. The machine may have you sitting on the top and you may even feel it would fail without you. However you are but one person who needs the contribution of all around you to guarantee success.  CS Lewis said it much better than me when he penned – “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Be Hungry – for unique success  When assessing your contribution do not fall into the trap of considering how much you can do and how well you can do it. I have had the unlucky privilege in recent years to work and suffer under “VL’s” (Volumetric Leaders) who have foolishly looked to activity and output to assess or determine success. How busy you are becomes a measure of your ability rather than the resultant benefit of your efforts to the organisation. The output from the individual impresses the VL even when the outcomes of their efforts are poor and ineffective. Every leader should be able to answer this question for both themselves and their team members “what can we do than no one else can do better, faster, cheaper or more effectively?” And that should determine what you focus on.

Be Hasty – Know where you want to get to and plan to get their quickly. Whilst speed does not always signify achievement I have yet to hear a sound argument from anyone to slow down. (Except possibly a Hearse driving school) the lazy leaders I have worked for have tried to use the term “constant Pressure” to explain away their inherent laziness but it falls on deaf ears when staff see their leader swanning around claiming they are pacing themselves to ensure success. “Hardly a competent workman can be found who does not devote a considerable amount of time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace.”  Frederick W. Taylor

My simple triple alliteration always brings a smile to the listening audience. Some are smiling because it seems too simple, others are secretly laughing at the futility of a virtuous management career and others are smiling because they think this old codger has “lost it”.  Very few in the early days of leadership fully understand the enormity of the challenge, although many have returned and still return to tell me how hard the road has been but how rewarding the goals are when they followed the simple “3H” plan.

My 3H model has become my personal life mantra and over the last decade I have broadened it out into my private life, faith practices and family activities because it encapsulates the philosophy that underpins everything we need if we are truly going to be the change agent in the modern world that we want to be.

Whilst it is a blinding flash of the obvious let me remind you that leading is difficult, and anyone who has been in a position of authority or influence for even a short period will know it’s not only difficult it’s also very repetitive work. The thought that leadership is full of new and exciting adventures on a daily basis is one for the fiction shelf.  Successful Leadership is worked out every day in each of the repetitive tasks we complete. Our success then sinks or swims on the leadership model we follow and not on any success we may stumble upon.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best and some of the worst leaders in both the public and private sectors, and almost all of them have shared a common goal to be the best that they can be. However only half of them have actually put in place the life style patterns and working habits that ensure they bring success to their organisations, whether we choose to be principled and passionate, courageous and capable, collegiate and collaborative, hopeful and humble. There’s no avoiding it: The patterns we choose to cultivate within our lives shape the person we are and the leader we want to be. Unfortunately, many leaders I have served under have not designed nor even followed a pre-planned set of leadership techniques and so fail to develop the tenacious winning habits needed to ensure continued and sustainable success. Instead they have waited for events to plan out their road map and disasters to determine their success.

It is a great shame that so many fail when success sits so close to their fingertips. Let’s not forget Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

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