9 Steps to Successful Leadership

by Robert Schriek, Executive Coach, Paris-London-Amsterdam-Brussels

1. Self awareness

Being yourself is a good thing. Trying to be someone else will invariably seem false and make you feel uncomfortable. It may even undermine your self confidence. Pretending to be someone else also takes a lot of energy.

However, take a close look at yourself. Some of your qualities may require a bit of polishing, toning down, or up. What are your pitfalls? Do you have a temper? Do your moods swing? Do you find it hard to delegate? Do you enjoy the power of leading a team bit too much?

As a mid-level manager you may still get away with:

"That's just the way I am".

However, should you want to move up, then it is very likely you will need to improve. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? What is stopping you from improving your skills? From taking a closer look at your limiting beliefs? At your behaviour? At character traits that may seem charming to some, but could make it difficult to be a better leader and be promoted?

2. Lead by example

You better be very much aware that you are the one who sets the tone for your team. With your ideas and behaviour. With the way you reward and correct.

Should you want your team to take more initiative, then you will need to show more of an entrepreneurial spirit yourself. If you want them to be highly motivated, you need to be energized yourself. If you need more integrity on your team, you can not allow yourself the slightest leeway.

This may seem obvious, but to be constantly living and breathing how you want your team to be. To always be consistent. That's not quite so easy.

However, it is essential. If you are not happy with the results, or the attitude of your team, then take an even closer look at yourself. What is the example you are setting? Have you defined the values for your team? For yourself? Do you incarnate these yourself? At all times? What do you need to change or accentuate in your behaviour to actually "walk and talk"?

3. Be close to your people

You are not their friend, not their teacher, not their parent. But you need to know who they really are. What drives them? What do they worry about? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Who is dependable and loyal to you?

When you lead a large team, you will at least need to know your leaders, including the informal leaders. Do you know who is best at certain tasks on your team? Do you know who will be on your side when things go South?

How certain are you of the answers to these questions? What do you need to do to find out? What can you do to know your team, to have strong relationships? Are you too friendly, do you have favourites in whom you confide? How did you select these favourites? Or are you keeping all of the people on your team at a safe distance? Why? Should you reconsider and change the nature of your relationship with some of the people on your team?

4. Take care of yourself

Your people look at you. All the time. You need to be fit, physically and mentally. Resilient to deal with setbacks, to deal with injustice, to manage the changes that invariably happen in companies. Again your people will follow the example you set.

Your motivation, attitude, energy, the way you dress, your language, it all matters. You will struggle to lead others if you don't first get a grip on yourself. Be very honest with yourself. How do you act when you feel down? Do you take exercise? Are you learning new skills? Do you take care of your appearance? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Energized, ready and hungry to go? If you don't, then what is holding you back? What do you need to change?

5. Manage up and down

Have a critical look at your management style. Are you the same person when you talk to your team and when you present to your superiors? How do you work and behave with your peers? With your clients? Your suppliers? It makes sense to have different nuances. But if you go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde when changing from managing up to managing down, then you probably have an issue. Your people will see this and it will not inspire respect. I give the example of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to be clear, but be aware that people notice even subtle differences and have long memories.

If you are tough with your team and servile with your bosses, or stakeholders, you will find it difficult to get respect. To begin with from your team. In the end from all. On the surface things may seem OK, but be wary when things get rough. Will your team support you when things go haywire? Ask yourself what you need to do to be more consistent in the way you manage up, down and sideways. Understand why you are inconsistent, should that be the case.

Most importantly, if you believe that it is all going fine, to what degree are you fooling yourself? Who could let you see reality? Also, be assured that your bosses also see how you lead and behave with your team. How do they interpret discrepancies in your behaviour and attitude? This can impact the way your employer looks at you as a candidate for the next level up. To what level would you promote a 'yes' man/woman?

6. Have ambition with a clear vision

Vision is a word that is often overused. But don't be misled. It is very important to be driven by ambition and to set goals. And these need to be more than just targets framed in corporate speak. They need to motivate, challenge, inspire. Enable your people to get the best out off themselves. To grow and enjoy what they do.

A CEO I worked for once said it very clearly:

"You need to paint an attractive picture of the future and then lead your team to it".

Can you paint this attractive picture for your team? This can be very straightforward. Let me share an example. I once joined the large country organisation of a leading international corporation to lead the Communications team. The executive team was based on the top floor of the building. When I first arrived, I had to search for the Communications team ... they were located in the basement. There was no daylight and the team members were sitting underneath signs that said who they were and what they did. A Kafkaesque situation.

My vision for the team was that in the future we would be based on the top floor with the executive team and that we would need no signs to tell people who we were and what we did, since all of us would be personally known, valued and respected by all who mattered in the company. In a ritual act to get started we tore down the silly signs. About a year later we were based next to the executive suite and working hand in hand with these leaders. Our vision had become reality. By the way, most of the people on the team got promoted in the process, including me.

What is your ambition? Do you have a concrete vision that is attractive to your team? What is holding you back from having one? Is your vision just a paragraph of corporate speak? What do you need to do to make it come alive?

7. Keep a healthy sense of perspective

You need to be confident, but there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. It is not just about you, it is about the company you work for. You will be as strong as the team you build. As strong as the working relationships you have with your peers and superiors.

And don't forget the credit you have simply representing the company you have joined. This is especially true for great companies and brands. When I was a communications executive working for a world class blue chip company, I instantly had the credit to be able to call any journalist and have a listening ear. I was invited to speak at seminars by people who had never met me. I could join any professional network at the drop of a hat and suddenly had more friends and relations than ever before. Fortunately I remembered that this had something to do with the companies logo on my business card and that it was not just my personal merit.

Same was true for results. Most were generated by my team and not by myself. I created the favourable working conditions and did my fair share, but there were some true heroes on my team and I made sure they got all the credit they deserved.

If you lose your sense of perspective, you lose contact with reality. This will impact your ability to make sound judgements. And then you are one step away from the abyss.

8. Stand by your people

The truly ambitious people on your team are often highly exposed. Their work, their results, are visible to many. So is their failure.

If your team don't feel supported, they will avoid risk and you will get no significant results.

To stand by your people implies that you are with them when things go wrong, when they make mistakes. That you share the blame, or take all of it. That you discuss issues with them face to face and that what needs to stay between the two of you, or within the team, does so.

Naturally there may be people on your team who are not suited, who cannot grow into their roles. Who don't want to be stars. Be honest with them and help them move on and find the role that suits them better.

Loyalty is a two way street. It is not realistic to expect it when you don't give it.

Ask yourself if your team trusts you. What would you gain if they would? What do you need to change to improve this? Are you worthy of their loyalty? What do you do when things go wrong? How honest are you in answering these questions?

Are the people on your team confident enough to take the calculated risks that lead to significant success?

9. Be confident and happy

The pressure is always on and if you believe that this is not the case, then I suggest you think twice. Risk is that you become stressed and tired. That you give the impression of being preoccupied and that your team interprets your behaviour and moods as lack of grip and confidence. How can you expect them to be confident when they see you bounce off the walls?

So pull yourself together. Radiate confidence. Tell yourself that you are in the profession of your choice, that you enjoy what you do, that you enjoy working with your team. And if you really don't. Get out. Ok, that may be a bit drastic. You could also get coached. It may just work.

Take a critical look and ask yourself if you are running a happy ship. Feeling good is not a goal as such, but it will help the team to be more effective. Things will run more smoothly with higher energy. In times of the inevitable setback, the team will regroup faster. In fact, they will need less of you. They will not need as much confirmation, there will be less doubt when they have the impression that you are feeling good. Also, great teams attract attention and talent!

Are you feeling confident and great? Really? What is your body language? How do you know this? What do you need to feel better, to radiate confidence, to remind yourself that you are privileged to work in your chosen profession, for a great company, with great clients? What would you need to change to truly feel this way and express it?

Author: Robert Schriek, Executive Coach