Today we are going to talk about developing the right attitudes. This post is for everyone who is either already a leader or wants to become one.

Maximizing Flexibility And Choice

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If we are to display confidence and commitment as an effective leader, then we need to develop the right attitudes. The first part of this article examines how we can do this.

Now we cannot provide ‘direction and guidance’ and ‘not interfere’ at the same time. Effective leaders know when to do what with whom. In essence, we have to adopt different aspects of our leadership repertoire depending on the situation we face and the competence and maturity of the team or individuals we lead. There is not a single leadership style nor approach that is applicable in all cases, so, in the next post, we look at what your current leadership orientation is. From this we can develop a model of leadership styles, and then examine where you fit in and what choices are available to you to maximize effectiveness.

Developing The Right Attitudes

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There are some key aspects to this – attitude to the leadership role, to yourself and to the individuals you lead. We shall look at each of these in turn.

Attitude To The Leadership Role

Too often we focus on the many tasks we have to complete and targets we have to achieve – on the technical and administrative roles. We tend, as a result, to be ‘managers of staff’, not ‘leaders’. Effective management is all about planning, organizing, coordinating, directing and controlling. However, people just don’t like, generally, to be planned, organized, coordinated, directed and controlled! As the American billionaire Ross Perot put it, ‘People cannot be managed. Inventories can be managed; people must be led.’

The fundamental objective of effective leaders is to get the best business performance they possibly can out of the people they lead. This requires a focus on, as we have seen, putting the follower’s work into context, developing the follower, leading by example and providing support. So, we need to develop a very positive attitude to the leadership role, recognize how crucial it is and that we need to consciously think and plan to be effective on a regular basis – focusing on those activities that will produce the best performance from the people we lead.

We may need to consciously do some ‘unlearning’ to develop the right attitude to our leadership role. Many people from many different cultures have a mind-set concerning what the core of leadership is all about – a view often developed from childhood experience as a follower. The view is that a leader should be in charge, should be seen to be in charge and should make all the decisions, as the ‘buck stops here’.

This view is deeply held by most, I would suggest, and I have seen the reality expressed on many occasions. I still recall a group of executives developing their leadership, teambuilding, teamworking and change management skills by completing a series of structured activities in an outdoor environment. With the first task, for which the team had 20 minutes to succeed or fail, we nominated a leader and, within seconds, the now followers were saying ‘Over to you boss. Tell us what to do’, and the leader was manfully (in this case) trying to work out what should be done. They completely failed, and during the review, the executives began to develop an understanding of what effective team leadership was all about. By the end, whoever was appointed ‘leader’ was coordinating a ten-step process to achieve success.

Attitude To Ourselves

As noted earlier, we are all capable of being poor leaders or good leaders. One of the reasons for our being able to display many of the behaviours of poor leaders is that we have a poor attitude to ourselves. When we lack confidence, feel insecure (deep down), do not have a high sense of self-worth, we will spend our time focusing on ourselves and trying to remove these feelings to meet our own needs. We then have no time for our followers and will try to manage them using ‘command and control’ as a permanent leadership style as that takes the least time.

Effective leaders focus on their followers, not themselves. So, we have to consciously develop a positive attitude to ourselves, recognize and dwell on the many strengths we all have, build our self-esteem, calm ourselves down and consciously and deliberately start to switch focus.

When we have managed our own psychology, developing the right attitude, then a practical manifestation of our new approach (where it is a new approach) will be to start regular team meetings and one to-one meetings. This provides time in our busy diaries for those we lead. Once we do this, we will end up saving time as the more effective our followers are, the less busy we need to be.

Attitude To Our Followers

Many years ago, a colleague told me a true story. A large group of schoolchildren were selected for an experiment. There were ordinary, ‘average’ kids. They were split into three smaller groups, say, A, B and C groups. Each group was given a teacher to educate them. Each teacher was told a different story about the children. Teacher A was told that he or she had been given a group of highly gifted, well-behaved children, teacher B a group of run-of the mill kids and teacher C a bunch of poorly behaved no-hopers.

Six months later, each group was behaving exactly as the teacher had been told to expect. The results and behaviour of group A were brilliant, group B average and group C dire. Thus, just as we need to develop a very positive attitude about ourselves and our abilities and potential, we need to have the same thoughts about each and every individual for whom we have been given a leadership responsibility. This can be extremely difficult indeed, but unless we think the best, we cannot hope to get the best.

What Is Your Leadership Style?

Models of four leadership styles have been developed by a number of experts. I will use the one developed by Kenneth Blanchard, writer of the One-minute Manager.

The first thing you need to do is complete a chart to find out which of the four styles or style combinations you currently prefer and compare it with your colleague’s perception of your style. There then follows an explanation of each style, when it is appropriate to use which, as well as seeing how effective delegation can be seen as a progression of styles.

Completing The Chart

I draw your attention to Figure 2.5, which shows a completed chart, using Charles’ scores for ‘Own perception’ – 4, 10 (we ignore the ‘team’ score for this analysis) – and ‘Another’s perception’ – 8, 6. We see that Charles sees himself as S3, and is seen as a combination of S2/S1. Please use Figure 2.6 to enter your own scores.

figure 2.5

S1: Tell

There are three occasions when, as the leader, the ‘tell’ style should be used.

In a crisis. If there is a crisis, then it is the leader’s role to resolve it. Imagine if the Captain of the Titanic, when the iceberg had struck, had called all his officers together and said, ‘Gentlemen, we have a problem. We have just been struck by an iceberg. So let us pour ourselves a stiff drink, eh, and have a chin-wag – a brainstorm to promote discovery of the various options, and then some time action planning, with, of course, a full review of the plan, before implementing it. It’s 3 pm, and if we get started now, we should be ready for effective action in 4 hours.’

figure 2.6

Of course he could not have done this! As leaders, in such a situation we seize control and tell our followers what to do, why and how so that the crisis is rapidly resolved.

I would emphasize that we do not simply tell people what to do, as some leaders do: we must also give a clear explanation of the crisis or the reason for the action we suggest. Nor is covering ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’ sufficient: we must give clear guidance on the specifics of the ‘How?’ For example, ‘Gentlemen, we have been hit by an iceberg. We must abandon ship immediately with a minimum of panic. Harry, you will be responsible for managing the news to the passengers and organizing their move to the lifeboats; George, you will be responsible for getting the passengers into the lifeboats and lowering them to the sea, applying the principle of women and children first; Charles, you will send out distress signals; Matthew will… and so on. The sequence I propose is… Any questions, gentlemen? No? Then proceed to action.’

Follower new to role. Where a specific follower is new to a job, and likely to lack confidence and be feeling insecure, then we need to ‘tell’ in a constructive way – provide clear guidance on what needs to be done, why and how and monitor performance.

Sudden negative change. However, sudden change, perceived negatively, can cause a loss of self-esteem, uncertainty and negative emotions. The leader needs to take control of the situation to avoid the team splitting at the seams or the individual becoming demotivated and incompetent.

S2: Coaching

This style is used where a follower has gained a degree of competence and confidence and while we will provide the ‘What?’ and ‘Why?’, we will also involve the follower in the ‘How?’, seek their input, and listen to the views expressed. So, there is a genuine dialogue on and agreement to the implementation.

S3: Supporting

This style is used when we have a confident and competent follower who can do the job well, but we remain in touch by having an ‘open door’ policy and being available to support if there are problems/unexpected difficulties encountered by our follower.

Some Key Points

The progression through the four leadership styles can be viewed as an effective process towards delegation or empowerment. We should attempt this development path for all our followers, as then we are optimizing our own time – we can work less hard than we undoubtedly will if we remain locked into an S1 or S1/ S2 combination, and we will be able to focus much more on the strategic aspects of our job.

There is a need to avoid developing mind-sets or acting on false assumptions. A true story will serve to illustrate this. A senior associate in a law firm was seen as a star and destined for partnership. When talking to him, he said that the downside to this perception was that his partner never praised him for a job well done (S4 should be rare as a little bit of interest, support and praise goes a long, long way), occasionally delegated projects to him that were beyond his level of technical ability and failed to provide any coaching at all. He was being left to his own devices.

If we recognize the level of confidence and ability of our followers and the nature of the situation they face, we can then choose the leadership style that is appropriate. By doing this we develop a flexible and appropriate response.

Research on the collective views of leaders and their followers suggests that there is a significant gap in perception of leadership styles. Followers usually see us operating one level lower than we think we are ourselves. So, for instance, we may see ourselves operating with an S2/S3 combination, but we are seen as S1/S2.