Lazy Leadership

Is this the age of Lazy Leadership? Well, before you answer, perhaps I should explain a little more about what I mean by that term.

No-one ever said that leaders need to be popular. In fact we probably need to be wary of leaders who appear to be universally liked. Those who are, in my view, are either at the head of a very slick and dangerous brain-washing machine, or are simply not tackling the tough stuff that people don’t like to hear.  (See We get the Leaders we deserve).

Here in the UK we have experienced a number of major political episodes in the last couple of years, from a Scottish Referendum, to a General Election, and more recently, an EU Referendum, and both a Tory and Labour leadership battle.  And we are currently in the final lap of the US Presidential marathon (or Trumpathon).donald-trump-creative-commons-via-flickr_659823

Perhaps it is because so many of these events have been reduced to simplistic binary choices that the quality of political debate has deteriorated. Complex issues, that do not necessarily have straightforward solutions, have been reduced to simple soundbites, creating polarised debates, resulting in divided electorates and divided nations.

High quality leaders navigate complexity and ambiguity, and do not allow themselves to be drawn into the downward spiral that is satisfied merely by securing a simple majority to fulfil a political end. Instead they are prepared to tackle thorny issues that may not be popular, they recognise that alienating half of the electorate (or workforce) is not a good foundation to build from, and they understand the danger of chasing populist opinion.

Here in the UK,

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The Case for Humble Inquiry

“Humble Inquiry is the skill & art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity & interest in the other person.”  ~ Edgar H. Schein

                               

Doing and telling are valued more in western, industrialised societies than asking and relationship building.  We hire and promote people who can get the job done. Asking for help and admitting that you don’t know are considered taboos to striving and ambitious people.

However, one quality of great leaders that comes out consistently close to the top in studies of leadership is the ability to master ‘humble inquiry’. Leaders who ask questions, who do not pretend to know answers, and who recognise that their people are the real experts, inevitably command greater respect and are considered to be more effective leaders.

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And why should this be so? Well, consider the charismatic, know-it-all boss who operates by telling. They may command a type of respect, possibly grounded in fear or concerns of inadequacy.  But, will people be prepared to approach them with problems, issues or concerns?  If relationships have not been established that make it easy for people to share problems, there is a danger that critical information could be withheld, even safety critical or life-and-death information may be held back.

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Self-Awareness: The Gateway to Leadership

This article was originally published in The e.MILE People Development Magazine in Feb 2015.

Few would argue with the notion that self-awareness is a vital prerequisite for any effective leader.  It is, after all, a key building block for emotional intelligence (EQ), providing the foundation for greater self-regulation, which in turn lends itself to more astute social awareness and finely tuned social skills, including leadership.

Be careful of false promises however.  Many books and articles have been written promising great things on the back of EQ mastery.  Unfortunately, many of these words of wisdom miss the point.  EQ is not just a set of skills to be learned and used, as simply as switching on a light. True EQ embodies a mind-set and a ‘way of being’ that is imbued with honourable intentions.Unhappy Girl Looking At Her Reflection On The Mirror

It is fashionable, indeed expected, for leaders to be in tune with their emotions, to understand themselves deeply, and to be equipped with the skills to know and read others’ emotions and motivations.  There is a danger in this, however.  A danger that lies at the very heart of how we expect our leaders to be.

Leaders are expected to know stuff. To know the strategy, to provide the direction, to comfort people during periods of uncertainty, to motivate, and have answers to difficult questions about expected future changes in the market. In short, the buck stops with the leader. It’s what they are paid top dollar for, isn’t it?

And how do leaders typically respond to these expectations?  By playing the same elaborate  game of course.  By giving people what they expect.  They put on a brave face (“for the sake of morale!”) even when they are unsure. They feel pressure to come up with answers when put on the spot for fear of looking out of their depth (“you never know – you might eventually be ‘found out’ as being a fraud or over-promoted!”).  All the while, they stay outwardly calm, self-assured and in control.  In other words, they put all of their hard-learned EQ skills into practice.  The veneer of self-assuredness, and being completely in tune with people’s fears and uncertainties, proves the value of the hours spent on the books and courses to master these essential ‘people’ skills.  But, wait a minute!  Didn’t I suggest that this was all a game?

The truth is that this is playing EQ by numbers and not from the heart.   The best leaders trust themselves – warts and all – to operate from a place of openness and honesty. This means displaying vulnerability. Yes, even at the risk of scaring the workforce, by having them know you don’t have all the answers.  Leaders who can share insecurities, hand responsibility back to others, ask questions rather than provide answers, and use EQ to learn rather than persuade and manipulate, will earn greater respect and trust in the longer term.

People will sense very quickly if your words and actions have a ‘hollow’, transactional and manipulative tone, even if they are dressed up with the EQ language you have learned. Furthermore, you will be modelling the type of behaviour that will become part of the organisation’s culture and be repeated at every level.   After all, being a leader is not about you. It is about the people being led.  Are you helping to enhance their capacity and creativity? Are you empowering them to have ideas and to influence strategy?   Are they growing and developing as people under your leadership?

Self-awareness is the gateway to great leadership, a prerequisite but not, in itself, sufficient.  It is not enough that leaders use emotional intelligence; it is vital that they live it.

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About the author: Louis Collins enables people to operate more successfully. You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of yourself or your teams but don’t know where to start, or you may not be having as effective conversations as you could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.

Could your organisation benefit from raising the leadership skills of its people? Would you, or members of your management team, benefit from exploring ways to make significant improvements in personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity? Coaching around the rich field of leadership will help provide the edge that you are seeking in 2015. Coaching has been proven to directly impact the bottom line. Simply drop me your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to speak with you. 

We Need a New Breed of Leader

This article was originally published in The e.MILE People Development Magazine in Nov 2014.

Boy In A Suit Drinking Coffee

The leadership mindset that led us into the global economic downturn is not fit for the purpose of leading us back out again.

Recessions encourage cautious mindsets, resulting in refrains such as,  “Batten down the hatches, let the storm blow over, it’s not a time for taking risks, let’s just make sure we are still standing at the end of this – we’ll be in good shape to start again.”  And, “Sorry, there’s no budget for people development. Not the right time to explore new means of production. Not possible to invest in innovation initiatives.” These leadership mantras have become engrained in the psyche of many a business culture during the last five or six years.

Leadership mindsets have themselves become victims of the downturn. The focus on cost reduction and the bottom line has stunted many leaders’ abilities. The question is, how easily will they be able to shift into a frame of mind that embraces growth, change and innovation.  Some who once had visions of new and exciting futures have resorted to being excited by ‘making budget’.

This is not the role of leaders.  Continue reading

Getting back to Why

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~ Nelson Mandela

The current Scottish Independence campaign has highlighted many questions and parallels with the world of leadership and inspiration. Reading this post about the importance of Getting Back to Why, I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. People are inspired by “Why” and not by “What” or “How”. To gain a greater understanding of how the golden circle model works, this TED talk is well worth watching.golden-circle

The independence campaign has almost exclusively been conducted on the question of How. “How will Scotland run its economy?” “How will it balance its books?” “How will it ensure its security?” How…! How…! How…! Questions that do not inspire, that do not contribute answers, and which, in the main, generate doubt, uncertainty and fear. It is little surprise, therefore, that a predominantly pro-union press and media have allowed the how question to dominate the campaign.

Simon Sinek has shown that the great companies, organisations, politicians and leaders inspire, generate energy and instil hope with “why”. Martin Luther King did not start his speeches by telling people how everything would work in a world after civil-rights was achieved, he started by telling people about his Dreams. Inspiration and hope comes not from having all the details known beforehand, but by being clear on the bigger vision, the grand purpose. No major change in history has ever been made where people have known clearly what lay ahead beforehand. They rarely know how things will work out, but they have known why they wanted to make the change. When purpose and vision is clear, then anything becomes possible. Being clear on the how is of less significance. Those details will emerge, they will evolve, driven by the energies of an inspired and optimistic people who know clearly why they want change to happen.

A Few Kind Words

Back in January I wrote about how it seemed to me that the question Why? is so much more fundamental to the independence referendum than the question How? Yet the mainstream of the debate has been framed almost entirely by How.

The reason’s not hard to see. It’s simpler to place practical obstacles – in this case mainly economic and political – in someone’s path than to convince them of the moral, philosophical or emotional benefits of the status quo. Yet whichever way you plan to vote you must surely be clear about why you do or don’t want independence before you start to consider how it might or might not come about.

I was reminded of that post this week by a friend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It made me think that I myself have been too easily caught up in the How? of late, and that…

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The Danger of Conviction

What do you do if you can no longer live with the doubt…? You try to cure yourself. And the best cure for doubt is over-conviction. ~ Richard Holloway (2013)

As a Scot, I have been intrigued by the developing rhetoric of the politicians on either side of the upcoming referendum question. They hone their arguments in an attempt to win over voters to one or other side of the debate. Should Scotland be an independent country? Simple enough question, but it sits atop a mountain of uncertainty, doubt and fear.

source: with thanks to Marf (Martha Richler)

source: with thanks to Marf (Martha Richler)

Many people have already made up their minds, and nothing the politicians do during the campaign will sway them from their conviction. They are people who are clear on the question, they are certain what the answer is, and they are in no doubt. But, ultimately, the people who will determine the outcome, are the currently undecided people of Scotland. They remain uncertain, they have doubts, they have no clear conviction.

And what is it that people want to hear from their politicians and leaders when they are unsure? What engages people who are having doubts and uncertainties about the future? Personally, I want to hear leaders tell me that they understand my concerns, that they too have those feelings of uncertainty, that doubt and fear have entered their head too. I am unlikely to respond or relate to yet another ‘conviction’ speech. The sort of argument that suggests that there is no room for doubt. And, yet, what I am hearing, from both sides of the referendum campaign, are entrenched arguments, conviction statements, and a total absence of humility.

Both sides appear to have forgotten Continue reading

Don’t write off the ‘Old Guard’

It has been an intriguing summer of sport already, and (thankfully) it has a long way still to go. What has struck me as interesting is that it has resulted in a large number of teams and individuals being toppled from the top spot.  In football’s World Cup we saw a shock early departure of Spain from the tournament.
spain defeated
In tennis, at Wimbledon, we saw last year’s champion, Andy Murray, and the world’s number one seed, Rafael Nadal, exit the competition – both beaten by younger rising stars of the game. In the women’s competition, we also saw the departure of Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and other past champions. Here, as in the men’s game, there is an exciting emergence of new young talent challenging the ‘old guard’.  I have no doubt that the rest of the summer’s sport, in events such as the Tour de France, golf’s Open Championship at Hoylake and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, will throw up other demises, departures, abdications and shock defeats of established past winners.
While the emergence of new talent is both exciting and essential for the good of the sport, what is equally, if not more, fascinating is how the so called ‘old guard’ respond to that challenge, and the hugely important leadership role they play in creating the next generation of champions. Despite the performances of the emerging stars,  the four semi-finalists in the World Cup are all established ‘giants’ of the game, and the eventual Wimbledon winners in both the men’s and women’s finals this weekend were also past winners, and amongst the pre-competition favourites.

Which past champions disappear, slide off into the sunset, and enjoy the dreams of their past glories, and which go back to the gym, come back stronger, fitter, fresher and ready to mount another bid?

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Congratulations

A huge congratulations to the three winners of the competition to win signed copies of “The Vital Edge”.

The winners are:-Screen Print Book Cover

Shaun Coffey
Sheila Richards
Barry Millar

 

“The Vital Edge” will be winging its way to them shortly.

All three winners nominated truly awesome sports people as the ones who had inspired them most.

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Win a copy of The Vital Edge

To coincide with the release of “The Vital Edge” on Amazon, the start of the Football World Cup, and a great summer of sport, I am holding a competition in which THREE signed copies of my new book will be won. Read on to find out more…

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Dip into “The Vital Edge”

Fancy a taster of what you can expect from my recently released book, “The Vital Edge”? Have a look through the attached presentation to see what topics are covered and which sports people feature. If you have already purchased the book, many thanks for doing so. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the subjects raised in “The Vital Edge”, either by leaving a review or rating on the Lulu.com site or here in the comments section of this blog.