Leaders Go First. The First Steps on Learning Leadership.

Leadership: You Have to Go First.

I love this little Dilbert storyline from Scott Adams:

Employee: “I find it rather demotivating that you never praise me for a job well done.”
Boss: “You’ve never done a job well.”
Employee: “That’s because I’m demotivated.”
Boss: “You have to go first.”
Employee: “Wouldn’t that make me the Leader?”

Dilbert.com

The 1-minute Leader

Ken Blanchard’s popular and accesible book The One Minute Manager suggests that a leader does 3 things, in the following order:

  1. 1-Minute Praising: Hunt for something the person does well, and publicly praise them – immediate and specific positive praising on actions.  Praise the Person.
  2. 1-Minute Goal-Setting: Agree on goals (no more than 5) with staff. Make sure each goal is clearly written on a separate piece of paper and kept visible daily. Keep Goals limited and focussed.
  3. 1-Minute Reprimand: If the person has the skills to do something right, and it is not done right – in private let them know “I know you are a great person, but this behaviour/result is not up to your talent. Reprimand the Behaviour.

The 4 Most Important Traits of Leaders

Jim Kouzes has spent over 30 years asking millions of people “what do you admire in the leaders that inspire you?”.  He has compiled the information over many years into his bestselling book: The Leadership Challenge.

The top 4 traits that followers seek in leaders are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Competence
  3. Inspiring
  4. Forward Looking

Work harder on honesty

Honesty is 3 times more important than the rest of the top 4 traits combined.  There is no point in working on competence, inspiration or forward looking if people don’t now perceive you as honest, as trustworthy (Read: What is Trust?).  People hate it when a leader doesn’t play it straight with them.  People hate it when a leader doesn’t have the courage to speak the honest truth about their performance, about the state of the organization, about what is going on in the team.

Credibility is the Base

The traits honesty, competence and inspiring are really about perception more than any absolute.  It is not enough to just be honest, you need to be perceived as honesty by the group.  It is not enough to be competent, you need to be perceived as competent by the group.  It is not enough to spray out messages that you think are inspiring, you really need to be perceived as inspiring by others.

Forward Looking is the Leadership Differentiator

Credibility gives you the permission, but that alone does not make the leader.  You need to build an ability to create a shared vision of the future, a forward looking but real-feeling sense of direction for the group.  How can you do this?

There are 3 aspects to being able to share a forward looking vision.

  1. WIIFM: I show others how their long term interests can be realised
  2. Connect: I appeal to others to share an exciting dream
  3. Storytelling: I describe a compelling image of what our future could be like

The key here is not the ability to see the future, it is the ability to communicate it meaningfully and tangibly to the people around you.  The crystal ball is not as valuable as the ability to communicate persuasively.   (My free online course “Speak as A Leader” can help http://bit.ly/practicespeak )

Getting Started on Vision

How can you get started on the path to a better visionary leader?  If you do nothing more than go around you asking people these 4 questions you will become clear on what you can do to contribute.

4 questions for people around you:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What can be done?
  4. What else is on your mind?

If you do nothing more than ask these 4 questions repeatedly and reflect the answers back to the group, you will be leading.

Further Reading:

13 comments

  1. Ramsingh Boodoosingh · · Reply

    Simple thought provoking and informative topic explained in a digestible manner

  2. […] Contribution and Growth. Kouzes and Posner in their work The Leadership Challenge identify: Honesty, Competence, Forward Looking and Inspiring as the traits that get the best out of your […]

  3. […]  Leaders must go first. The first steps in Learning Leadership. […]

  4. I loved the Dilbert comic strip! Than you for sharing your insight in this article. There are a lot of nuggets in this article.

    http://www.lifeoflu.com

    1. Hehe yep I love that Dilbert strip 😉

  5. Thanks Conor for your post, quite succint and with some essential traits of a leader. Liz Wiseman changed me a vision of a leader with her book MULTIPLIERS, How the best leaders make everyone smarter, The’re talent magnet, liberator, challenger, debate maker and investor with the people. In front of the Diminisher style, they underutilizes talent, creates a tense environment, they show themselves constantely, centralizes decisions and all succes is because of them,
    I guess leadership is a gift, others can learn how to improve skills to develop people, but always they will need someone to help them.

  6. Thanks Conor for your post, quite succint and with some essential traits of a leader. Liz Wiseman changed me a vision of a leader with her book MULTIPLIERS, How the best leaders make everyone smarter, The’re talent magnet, liberator, challenger, debate maker and investor with the people. In front of the Diminisher style, they underutilizes talent, creates a tense environment, they show themselves constantely, centralizes decisions and all succes is because of them,
    I guess leadership is a gift, others can learn how to improve skills to develop people, but always they will need someone to help them.

  7. Joanne Hamill · · Reply

    Hi Conor, really liked this article, very succinct and to the point about the core skills needed for leadership, I like the four questions, I think I shall be changing my line management agendas to include just those, keeps lines of communication open while helping to coach the other person to find solutions and be reflective.

    Hope you are well, regards, Joanne

  8. Although I understood what Blandard was aiming for with his 1 minute approach, I was never in agreement, leading cannot be short cut… The 4 Traits you point to, which I would say are only a portion of the list are far more useful as tools. I have always felt a great leader creates leaders.

    The most effective way to attain strength and leadership in an organization and too oft the least put into practice is employee development and the ongoing inclusion of it into organizational process.

    With technology becoming an equalizer between competitors, it will be people who become the differentiators. Investing in people is also a key factor in employee retention

    1. Paul – thanks for you comment. I know that Ken’s book is quite simplistic. If you have the wrong people around you then his tools won’t lead you to great results. Equally, his tools tend to make employees expectant that the boss provides “motivation” – and I think everyone needs to bring their own motivation – not only when someone says they did a good job… I guess in that simple book Blanchard is a little bit about building great followers, rather that great leaders…

  9. The Dilbert conversation is fantastic.

    1. 😉 totally!!!

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