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Written By Sean McPheat, Founder and MD of international management development firm MTD Training
Leadership is a complicated thing. It’s not complicated in the way you might imagine a difficult math problem to be; the impossibly intricate, weaving algorithms that decide what unnecessary Facebook status you see, for example. Nor is it a scientific formula, solved via two confluent processes engineered in an elaborate way to work harmoniously together. No, the secret of leadership simply cannot be unlocked with a concrete method or procedure that guarantees results every single time.

What is the reason for all this complication? People! People are the reason that no set formula will work. People are the reason leadership only flourishes via delicate, individual cognitive processes. People are the reason people often make critical errors and end up sinking their opportunity like a dead-weight.

People don’t function socially and ethically on basic formulas and equations. They work more subtly than that, and as a leadership role is based predominantly on the social and cultural equilibrium created by you in your working environment, a basic set of formulas and equations simply won’t work. Seemingly though, many professionals, trainers and failing leaders do not know this.

The Social Formulas

What you must do beyond all else is remember what you’re trying to achieve in the people you work with. Remember that you’re not simply solving a problem with a single definitive answer. This is the first misconception that stunts the growth of any would-be leader. Following a rigorous set of systems, techniques, processes and patterns as they develop often puts a supposed leader in the mind-set that these methods and rules should be followed rigorously, without deviating from the pattern, regardless of situation or stereotype. As soon as this idea is embedded into their management and leadership culture, they’re dead in the water in terms of becoming the legendary leader; the leader that can get the best out of their people, for the people themselves, for their own success, and for the company.

It is essentially applying a rigorous doctrine to an entirely malleable substance; with the wrong training and development culture, an attempt at leadership will end up similar to trying to clasp water in a balled up fist. Best practices are, by all accounts, a dirty phrase, there is simply no such thing when it comes to leadership, only experience and development.

A Soluble Solution

So what can be done? How can leadership be taught? The answer is it shouldn’t be taught. Teaching must be dispensed with, replaced by an accepted distinction; mentoring, coaching, disciplining, developing – simply put, a leader must open up their learning susceptibility to understand the layers that go deeper than a set of rules and regulations. Instead of focusing on a curriculum, or technique and procedure, simply focus on people. Instead of concentrating on the role, pay attention to the person. Instead of encouraging compliance and process, accentuate performance and outcome. Effectiveness not efficiency. Cognition not mechanism. Educate, collaborate and coordinate. These may all sound like buzzwords, but the message behind them is clear – sociality and relationships, a deeper understanding of what it takes to push people to be their best through diverse, contextual and fluid learning are vital in ensuring a new leadership role doesn’t prematurely fail.

Influence and Control

There is an obvious difference between influence and control. Knowing how to individually define these two aspects involved within any management or leadership position, should involve a separation in order to act upon them knowingly. Doing so will ensure you don’t make a classic mistake or something that will doom leadership development moving forward.

Pulling Strings

Influence means you’re pulling the strings in the background, in order to make sure your people are being the best they can be. You’re creating the atmosphere, the environment, and the conditions that allow your team to thrive. When they’re not thriving, you build relationships to find out what will make it work better and then repeat. Doing so will forever re-acclimate you to the needs and requirements of your people, guiding them to reach their full potential.

Pulling Teeth

Control is the direct opposite of this, meaning that influence constructs the individual stepping stones upon which your team can work and progress, further encouraging them to walk across the stepping stones on their own. Control forces your people into a single space, and blindly pummels them down without a second thought. Control focuses on efficiency and technique and mechanism, much like those incorrect training ideals. Control is a bottleneck that perpetuates negativity, inhibition and limitation. Unfortunately, a controlling leader is the most common type of leader.

So how do you become an influential leader? You must start by understanding your position. This might not seem like the kind of ground breaking revelation that’s going to change the way you work; but think about it. By understanding your position, you better understand the position of your people, and comprehending that is what leadership all about.

Limelight Shiner

Essentially, as an influential leader, you’ll know that your aim is not to place the limelight upon yourself. The goal is not to display your results, managing ability or your personal accomplishments; what you’re trying to do is shine that limelight upon your people. Display their ability, their accomplishments, and their hard work. You must dispense with ego and rigidity, and understand that the success of your individuals is your success – the better they are, the better you are. The perfect working environment within which they may prosper is your priority.

Control is simply a commodity for power, and power hungry leaders stifle culture, promote severe hierarchy, and foster an environment comprised of stress, weak incompatible teams and fear.

The Leadership Lessons

Being a leader is all about your people. It’s about building relationships, creating environments, promoting a team-based equilibrium, knowing what to do and when and establishing authority in a convivial and approachable manner.

Developing your leadership maturity will put you on the right path. If you can successfully embrace the idea that you’re enabling authority to be disseminated out to your team, as opposed to consolidated and utilized for your own benefit, you hold a greater understanding of what it takes to be a real leader.

To get there, you’ll need to have taken into account these two main elements; you’ll need to understand that while you learn and train, your goal is development and you’re building interpersonal social skills and not simply using muscle memory to reflex in a specific manner at any given point. You’ll need to have learned that you are not exerting or combining elements of control. You are building an environment where authority may be distributed. Ultimately, you are leading others so that they may better achieve their successes.

As a final thought, we want leaders to be critical thinkers, capable of being innovative and adaptable. We want them to be able to take charge, but in a manner that nourishes and develops their people. Be that leader! Teach yourself these lessons.

This post was written by Founder and MD of international management development firm MTD Training, Sean McPheat who is widely regarded as a leading authority on modern day management and leadership.