If you were on Twitter on Tuesday this week, you'll no doubt have seen the myriad inspiring messages and pictures that were being shared to mark the UN Day of Women and Girls in Science. It was glorious! Women stood up to be counted, sharing their achievements in their particular fields. Just check out #ThisWomanDoes and #WomenInScience if you weren't following. Now, we can't all be scientists. But it got me thinking about the power of role models in other aspects of life and work. One that's never far from my mind is leadership, from politics to business to life in general, so I thought I'd spend a bit of time exploring what it takes to be a leader today.
I can safely say that no part of my being believes that Donald Trump is an inspirational leader, embodying as he does a traditional view of leadership that is drawn from the command and control model (saying nothing about his lack of any grasp on facts and reality). And although we might think that this approach has been condemned to the past, it is clearly still thriving in some situations.
But the world I want to live in is different. It's one where technology brings people together. Where people from different backgrounds, countries and generations learn from and support each other. And where we all have each other's best interests at heart, not just our own or those of the chosen few. So I sought inspiration elsewhere - and found it, in Fortune's World's Greatest Leaders of 2019. From Jacinda Ardern, to Greta Thunberg and Fatma Samoura, this list emphasises a different approach. Exploring this in more detail, I've chosen the characteristics and behaviours I think are the most applicable to leadership today.
To be a leader is to inspire. And what better way to inspire other people than to be inspired yourself? To do this means being curious. Exploring the world around you. Asking the difficult questions. Remaining curious helps you to look at things in different ways, find new connections and uncover opportunities. It opens you up to the opinions and perspectives of others while constantly examining your own ideas and approaches. It encourages you to come up with more creative solutions. And being curious shows that you're still learning, acknowledging to others that it's ok not to know everything. In turn, this will encourage those you work with to become more curious themselves, sparking innovation and developing new ideas. Here are some tips on how to become more curious.
The best leaders are those who share their knowledge, skills and time with others. They appreciate those who have helped them along the way and want to do their best to support their colleagues and co-workers to develop. Being generous means giving people responsibility, encouraging them to try new things, and supporting them if they fail. And it means giving credit where it's due. It's the opposite of that toxic work culture where information isn't openly shared, or help offered. Putting others interests first will help to create an open, positive and motivational environment. Here are some ways to become more generous at work.
We hear all the time now about the importance of authentic leadership. At its heart, authenticity is about integrity. And integrity is about being true to yourself, whatever situation you're in. Many people who lead teams believe that emotion should stay at home - but if you lead with integrity, then your emotional response is as important as your rational one. For me, integrity means letting people see who you are and what you believe in, and encouraging others to do the same. It means making decisions based on those beliefs and accepting the consequences. And it's one of the most important traits to model for others - if you act with integrity, then so will your team.
No-one wants to work with a leader who has the same ideas as everyone else, so originality is another of my top five leaderships characteristics. Not only does original thinking help you to stand out from the crowd, it also supports your quest to be more curious, as you explore new avenues and find new solutions. Taking an original view helps you to look at things in different ways. And doing that is likely to lead to recognising more opportunities and having the belief to take more calculated risks. Like the cherry on the cake, putting originality and curiosity together gives you innovation.
Finally in my list comes purpose. The most effective leaders are those who remain most grounded, putting the purpose of their work at the fore. Understanding the 'why' of your business is essential when it comes to making good decisions, as well as encouraging loyalty with your customers and with your staff. Why? Because your purpose tells your story, setting out and illustrating what makes you - and your business - tick. The importance of purpose has been explored in detail by Simon Sinek and in our earlier post, here.
What I love about these five traits is that they're nothing to do with organisational hierarchies. Being a good leader doesn't rely on how long you've been in your career or how many people you have in your team. Everyone can be a leader. You can lead yourself. And you can encourage and support these leadership skills in others. So whether you're a recent graduate or an old hand, go ahead and embrace the change!
If you need help thinking about your own skills, or developing leadership across your organisation, then get in touch. We'd be delighted to work with you!