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April 3, 2020

The Essence of Good Leadership

If you aspire to become a great leader who can engage and transform the lives of those around you then you must take action to improve your daily habits.

Irene Asare

Great leaders seek daily self-improvement, not because they want to be perfect but because of their ambition to further develop personally and professionally. They seek to constantly evolve into better leaders rather than be complacent. They make a conscious effort to make learning visible to empower those around them.

A recent World Economic Forum article titled “Here's what research can teach you about being a better leader”, states, “Leadership has been in the spotlight as never before, as people around the world look to their leaders in all spheres of social, political and organisational life.”

Expectations of Good Leadership

There is leadership wherever you find yourself on any given time or day. The question remains whether it is good, bad or great leadership. Let’s examine our institutions for instance. Every institution in society is established for a definite purpose and governed by leadership. The difference good leadership has on society and the workplace is the purpose-driven factor and success of that society or organization.

Good leaders impact lives by exhibiting high level of integrity. It is the way in which leaders handle challenging situations or conflicts directly and in a transparent manner that proves their honesty. In addition to integrity, any goal-oriented leader must not only set but achieve goals. In doing so, leaders make their priorities for both themselves and their followers clear. When a team fails to meet its goals, leaders are expected to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Having the ability to motivate a team is an equally important trait expected from a good leader. Motivation should not be entirely negative or positive, but a mixture of both. For example, a leader can introduce initiatives that either reward employees based on outstanding performance or punish them for poor performance. The combination of negative and positive reinforcement, outlines a leader’s expectations and ideally serve to motivate their team.

We have all experienced mediocre or poor leadership at some point in our career. I certainly have, and therefore, know all too well how it can seriously affect an employee’s morale and even lead to the downfall of a company. Research shows that authentic leadership positively correlates with an encouraging work environment, which increases self-esteem, friendliness, well-being, and work performance (Grandey, Fiske, Mattila, Jansen, & Sideman, 2005; Kernis, 2003).

Lead with Purpose

There are many schools of thought on good leadership. I see a good leader as someone who does not merely manage people but also serves as a role model for the people they lead, motivates, supports and mentors them. They are more than an authority figure. They are the first to inspire and light the way for others to follow. One way they do this is by transforming with the everchanging world of work especially now as we confront changing mindsets in an evolving decade. A leader can lose their potential followers, those they coach and mentor, if they fail to change with the times because now more than ever, people have the freedom to choose the kind of leadership they want.
For me, the crux of great leadership requires:

Authenticity
Authentic leaders know their personal strengths and vulnerabilities and lead with awareness of their shortcomings. This awareness of self allows them to build rapport and improve the quality of their communication skills, and workforce engagement.
Boldness
Leaders who are bold are inspiring not just because they get big things accomplished, but because they also instigate growth, progress, and movement for themselves and others around them.
Bravery
Leadership takes courage, the courage of confidence in others. Bravery in leadership is about letting go off the need to control situations or outcomes, having faith in people and being open to direction and change.
Humanity
When we recognise others as imperfect human beings, we admit our own imperfection and that our world. This imperfection gives us the possibility to learn, to improve our leadership skills, and to change ourselves every day.
Vulnerability
Great leaders embrace moments of vulnerability by being honest about their feelings and admitting or acknowledging their mistakes. It leads to trust and real connections, which helps improve a group's performance.
Empathy
Empathy is a leadership aptitude like none other. It is being able to understand the needs of others. It means you’re aware of their feelings and their thinking. It means inspiring them to take actions beyond their capabilities, leading them in a direction that is compelling and inspiring.
We must constantly be self-aware, reflective, and fearless to make mistakes or admit our shortcomings. To earn the trust, respect, and cooperation of our team, we should first make selfless sacrifices and put the needs of the people around us ahead of our own. The truth is people will only naturally trust and cooperate with their leader when they feel safe and protected by them.

My Failed Leadership Story

I remember a time at my former organisation when my team failed to deliver what was expected of them and had to go before my boss and colleagues to explain the unfortunate situation. I had to assume the full blame and take the heat because their inability to deliver was a result of my inability to lead. Although I had conversations and expressed my challenges and disappointments with the team, I also took the time to reflect on myself and came to terms with the fact that I was responsible. What a difficult pill for any leader to swallow? In the end, I was glad I made that decision and the team respected me more for it. So much breakthrough happened from that one incident. There was great appreciation and acceptance from my team, which made it easier to take my rightful place as their leader and engage them more.

There must be an element of trust when leading people. I understood that my team would do whatever it took to see my vision become reality, simply because they knew I would do the same for them. Employees should always be able to trust their leaders to make the best decisions for them in tough times. What sets a good leader apart is their transparency in difficult calls. When leaders focus on the wellbeing of their employees, they end up with a more loyal, motivated workforce, ready to invest more in company success. When workers are respected and valued, they are more likely to give their all on the job, which benefits the organisation at large.

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