If you strip away the jargon, what is Leadership really about?

by Derek Winter


I had the opportunity to spend an evening listening to Lisa McInnes-Smith last night. I haven't laughed so much in a talk about leadership and influence for a long time. Lisa made some insightful observations about leadership. One thing that was refreshing about Lisa’s talk was that it lacked buzzwords or jargon. She is very down to earth, gets people involved and provides practical examples and explanations.

The broad canvas was not new - Leadership is influence. Within this canvas however she drew on her sports psychology background and experiences in life to explore some of the things that stop us from learning new skills as well as considering what influence looks like.

The things that stuck out to me that I don’t usually hear in a presentation about leadership were as follows (in no particular order):

1. If you’re not learning new things, you’re rarely leading people.

Influence is about shifting people from where they are to where they want to be. Whether that be developing skills or changing behaviours and achieving new goals. If we ourselves are not continually learning (and therefore experiencing that journey of development and renewal) we will have little impact on others to that end and little to share with others by way of development

2. One of the key barriers to changing is our own mental refusal to take the risk involved.

All too often we talk ourselves out of doing something, learning something, trying something or starting something before we even get out of our seats. The first thing that needs to change is the mental (often subconscious) refusal to act.

3. Whatever skill you try to learn, or new direction you take, there will always be detractors.

Lisa told a lovely story about her Dad who was apparently a formidable tennis play in his day and continues to be as a veteran. At age 80 he decided to introduce topspin into his forehand stroke. Needless to say his family thought he was a little crazy, but he continued and did the work necessary by hitting hundreds of balls against a practise wall to master the stroke. We need to be discerning about the advice we get, but once we’ve set our goal, we should just get on with the work necessary to achieve them regardless of the detractors.

4.Talent doesn’t take us to the top; It gives us a pathway but character takes us there & keeps us there.

The most naturally talented sports people often not the ones that go on to succeed at the highest level. Research apparently shows this to be true with children as well that those that find the skills come easily when they first start are often not the ones that continue on with that skill or sport in the long run. Those that have to strive and work to perfect something typically achieve greater heights. Talent and skill might open doors, but our character and focus will get us to the goal.  

5. We need people to love us enough to tell us the truth

Someone objective can see things that we can’t see. Parenting is a great example; We discipline our children because we love them and we know that certain decisions will stand them in good stead in the long run even though at the time it feels unfair to them and is difficult for us. All to often in organisations of all types we compensate and avoid the difficult conversations.        

6. In order to lead we need to care enough to notice what is happening for people around us

Which is perhaps the reverse side of the previous observation. It’s not about us!

7. Change the words you use about yourself and others and you will change your world.

The most powerful words we hear about ourselves are those that we say to ourselves. If we start using words of encouragement, gratitude and respect it will not only transform us, but by also mirroring this behaviour in our conversations with others will transform them as well.  

If we’re leading people, we must be leading them somewhere. We must know what the destination is, be honest about where we are at, what we’re good at and what we need help with. Both as an individual and as the team or group that we’re leading.

My summary? Treat people as people. i.e. treat people as we want to be treated and we will get the best out of them and achieve the things we want to achieve.