The question of what is ‘leadership’ has received an inordinate amount of airplay. Everyone accepts that it is a critical dimension of organisations, and everyone wants to do ‘it’ better. Ongoing leadership development, often referred to as leadership training, is critical. Unfortunately, the higher in the organisation we go, the less often we undertake formal development (other than what is gained ‘on the job’). There is a myriad of reasons for this - some very self-soothing! While we should continue to seek ongoing development and training, perhaps what is most important is that we remind ourselves of the key essentials of leadership.
In searching for the right ‘leadership’ recipe, we can often be overloaded with messages about what we need to do more/better/less to be an effective leader. Often we fall into the trap of ‘doing for doings sake’, playing the role of the leader that is forged by the environment around us rather than what made us a good leader in the first place. Perhaps we need to firstly look at the core character attributes that provide the fertile ground for good leadership to grow.
I recently read through the Hippocratic Oath - the oath where doctors pledge to undertake ethical medical practice. Perhaps not so surprisingly, since first written by Hippocrates in the 4th Century BC, it has been translated and 'modernised' a number of times. Regardless of this, at its core, any interpretation of the oath infers that practitioners must ... 'do no harm'.
If the essence of leadership is the power of influence, then you can understand that its use and misuse can have long lasting effects. Taking a lead from the medical fraternity, ‘do no harm’ has a certain core principled-centred base that may guide our actions as leaders.
Similarly, I once heard a leader talk about his personalised version of principled-centred leadership. In testing a decision or action that impacted on people, his first test was to objectively answer his own question - is this fair to all concerned? But it is his second test on which he places most importance - simply put, if a decision or action he took was to make the front page of the newspaper, could he ‘comfortably’ look his children in the eyes and explain it.
In these current economic times, cost management practices such as retrenchments become more prevalent. Certainly, for the sake of the long term viability of the organisation and its employees, they may be necessary at times. However, in keeping our ‘oath’ or the ‘front page’ test, it will be the ‘how’ we treat people throughout these processes that separate true leaders from pretenders!
So whenever we seek to be better leaders, firstly look within to see if we have the central requisites. By working from these, we will be better positioned to be the leader we want to be.
Being an effective leader in the complex global marketplace is becoming increasingly difficult. People have higher expectations of leaders within their organisations; statutory and regulatory frameworks place more accountability on leaders, and there is, of course, the key role of delivering on the business outcomes that the company needs to ensure its long term viability. This article looked at endeavours to bring leadership back to alignment of a few core principles.
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Catherine is a partner at AP Leadership Group who provides leadership development services including executive workshops in her leadership training Brisbane facility.
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