Many managers spend years in their jobs without stepping back and examining their leadership style. There never seems to be time to ask yourself: What am I trying to achieve within the business? What do I believe in? And (crucially), am I bringing my team with me?
These are among the questions managers are encouraged to consider at the week-long Oxford High Performance Leadership Programme at Saïd Business School. This unique course combines one-on-one coaching, personal audits and informal conversations, along with larger classroom sessions led by professors. "We help participants build acuity, adaptability and confidence – attributes that help form great leaders," says associate fellow Alison McQuater.
With a group of 40 senior leaders from around the world and across different sectors, it’s a great opportunity to share ideas. Former attendee Beverley Furman, managing executive of operations at Strate in South Africa, says, "You engage with people from a wide variety of countries, so you get cultural and national diversity and can draw from others’ experiences."
We spoke to McQuater about how even the most experienced leaders can up their game.
4 ways to be a better leader
1. Build your confidence
A key part of the High Performance Leadership Programme is developing self-awareness, which McQuater believes has a strong link to confidence. One revealing exercise asks each participant to reflect on their life and identify many formative experiences- both high and low points. "We ask participants to focus on what they thought and felt at that moment, what impact it had on them and how it has shaped their leadership approach and beliefs," says McQuater. "For example, they might have experienced bullying at school or succeeded against the odds when others thought they would fail. Participants plot this out visually and share their story with another person in the group."
The impact of this exercise is amazing, says McQuater: it gets people thinking much harder about why they operate in the way they do. "Over the week, people start seeing their strengths differently, frame problems differently, think more creatively, and gain the confidence to push things forward."
2. Make smarter decisions
Research by management consultants Bain found that decision effectiveness is 95 per cent linked to financial performance. Leaders need to make dozens of decisions a day, and can sometimes make flawed judgements, often due to cognitive traps. "You can’t stop cognitive biases happening, but you can be aware of and counterbalance them," says McQuater. "It’s also critical to take account of organisational context, and multiple stakeholders’ interests."
Sometimes it’s worth consulting colleagues, who could challenge your predispositions. At other times, shut your office door and process the information yourself. "Ask yourself: Why is this important – and what’s the worst that can happen if there are unforeseen consequences?" says McQuater. "You have to have clarity of what is within your control."
3. Work out what you stand for
McQuater believes it’s difficult to be a confident leader if you don’t have a strong sense of purpose and personal conviction. "Think about what you want to influence and for what purpose," she says. "There’s an increasing amount of research on purpose-led leadership and the importance of creating shared value in an organisation. Try to find alignment between organisational needs and what motivates, inspires and satisfies your team members. Courage and integrity are more relevant than ever in today’s environment."
4. Be adaptable
There are many ways to influence people – effective dialogue, empathy, networking. But you have to use the right technique with each different situation and person. "Recognise that no single style works across the board," says McQuater. "You need a certain level of humility and a willingness to accept challenge to your perspective. Put aside the feeling of ‘I’m right’ and approach problems from the point of view of not knowing all the answers."
Lead with conviction
Discover more about how to be an impactful and successful leader at the High Performance Leadership Programme at Saïd Business School. The next course starts on 12 May 2019.
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