First class coach

FIRST CLASS COACH - I look at the conventional role models for leaders and realise I'm not like that and never will be.

by Miranda Kennet
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Should I accept that I won't be a leader and try to move to a different sort of role?

I recently ran a leadership workshop for board directors of a well-known communications company. Among people cited by participants as great leaders was Adolf Hitler: 'He was good at getting people to follow him and share his beliefs, so he must by definition have been a good leader.' However, Hitler's proposer was also quick to assert that he himself didn't have those skills and therefore didn't see himself as leader material.

This shows a mistaken idea of leadership and the role of leaders. Yes, of course there are leaders who are great orators, are charismatic and have demotic power. But these are few and far between, and just as well: we don't need many of them, perhaps even fewer than we have. We need people in business and public life who are conscious of their power to be a force for good and are exercising their choice to lead in ways consistent with their own values, whatever the level they have reached in the hierarchy.

Good leaders come in many shapes and sizes; some great leaders are introverts, thinking things through themselves, holding themselves apart from small talk and geniality but, when it matters, able to convey clearly the direction and standards they believe in. Some fine leaders care passionately about people more than about the completion of tasks, but they have nevertheless bent their talents to achieving greater things.

The important thing for you is to work out what kind of leader you want to become. It is worth looking around you to identify the qualities in others that you value and which may be latent in you. The strength of this approach is that it is firmly rooted in your own values, rather than plucked from a textbook with little relevance to your daily working life.

Sometimes, too, you can build your picture by negative definition: coming to a view of the sort of leader you don't want to be. However, beyond your own experience of good and bad leadership, you could do worse than consider the six styles of leadership identified by Daniel Goleman if you want help in defining a style consistent with your personality and beliefs.

Goleman is the man most associated with the idea of emotional intelligence, the deciding factor in success, according to recent research. One of the most familiar styles is the coercive one, otherwise known as command-and-control. Although this works well when there is a real emergency, over time the impact on the organisation is negative: constantly telling people what to do creates learned helplessness. If someone never has the opportunity to think for themselves and take responsibility for the results they create, they may come to believe themselves to be incompetent. In the past, when social order was more rigid, this style was the norm; now, however, it is decreasingly effective.

Another prevalent style is the pacesetter: the leader sets high standards for themselves and others, but does little to support those less experienced to achieve these standards. When, inevitably, their people fail to deliver, they becomes critical and their staff become demoralised and even less effective. Organisations need high-performing individuals, but if such leaders cannot encourage high performance in others, they are of limited value: leaders need followers.

These two are push styles of leadership. More positive are the four pull styles. For, as Eisenhower put it: 'Pull the string and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.' Pull styles are the democratic, the affiliative (paying attention to the need to be supported), the coaching and, most consistently successful, the authoritative.

Authoritative leadership invites followers to 'Come with me', providing a clear direction and coaching encouragement to help people move in the desired direction. It is not authoritarian and does not dictate, but it does involve setting a challenge and engaging and supporting people in succeeding in its delivery.

Whatever your personality, there will be elements of these more positive styles that are already in your repertoire, even if you don't use them on a daily basis. Sorting out what you are already doing well and determining that you are going to turn up the volume on these positive leadership traits will immediately begin to change the impact you have on others, enhancing the way you behave and are perceived. And, because leadership is actually in the eye of the beholder, rather than in the title, you will have made a start on becoming the sort of leader you admire. If you have an issue you'd like this column to cover, e-mail:

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