I have had the good fortune to work for some exceptional people over the years, that through observation and experience I was able to learn from. Throughout my career to date there has been an increasing amount written and said about what leadership is and what the traits of good leaders are. Often leadership is recognisable through observing people’s behaviour and attitudes, however for me, there are two short, pithy idea’s that people I’ve worked for said that have stuck with me and are core to my perspective on leadership and I think core to what it means to be a successful leader.
The first of these came at a stage in my career when I was still in an operational role probably best described as Project Management. The company was still young, yet was delivering an application to international shipping companies which managed their container fleet for them. There were two of us in the London office that could deliver one of these projects and were supporting clients across Europe. We had a new boss brought into the company. Robert’s description of the role he played in the first meeting I had with him, was to “Allow you to do what you’re good at and remove the barriers that get in your way”. That was liberating for me then (and a stark contrast to the micro-manager he replaced) and summed up the way he acted.
Essentially it was an act of empowerment - I’ll let you get on with what you need to do, back you all the way and assist in removing obstacles that might inhibit your success. Naturally what went with that was the principle of accountability and responsibility, which he fostered by his indication of support, trust and confidence.
I can’t recall who I heard the second idea from first, but it was either Paul Steele or Col Duthie. the concept is that it is a leaders role to “Influence with Integrity”. It was foundational to the way in which people at Ergo were encouraged and expected to behave, as enshrined in a set of “Participation Behaviours” - a way of being that we advocated that we felt defined what it would take to be a great place to work and provide a foundation to being successful. Whether consciously or not, leaders will influence the people around them. The difference between those that consciously aim to influence with integrity and those that don’t is significant.
This single phrase, perhaps more than any other sums up for me how a leader should behave, be motivated and should be measured. All the other traits and principals of leadership can be encompassed in this one premise. Powerful yet simple.