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Five tips for becoming an effective leader

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"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it"

- Dwight Eisenhower

In January 2019, I was in Nairobi, Kenya, along with nineteen other delegates selected from Africa to attend Ericsson's Global Leadership program - Leaders Core Curriculum. The three-day program was facilitated by John Hattam of Institution of Mechanical Engineers whose professionalism, excellent delivery and sense of humor left in the hearts of my colleagues and I, an indelible mark and a photographic memory of the entire course.

The training, as you may imagine, encompassed several theories and models on Leadership, which we explored in detail, and were aimed at providing the foundation for our understanding of leadership. John included videos, interactive sessions and team exercises in the content which spurred active participation and created possibly long-lasting friendships among colleagues who had no direct/physical interactions prior.

Indeed, many people aspire to be leaders. However, as pondered by Rob Goffee whose book was one of the recommended readings, 'Why should anyone be led by you?'. More so, 'what kind of leader would you like to be?'. Well, a lot of things stood out for me during the three-day course, and I'm happy to summarize and share the plethora of knowledge I gained. So here are five tips on becoming an effective leader that I gleaned from the course, which I believe would be helpful for current and future leaders.

  • Be authentic: One of the many quotes John shared with us was that of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself, everyone else is taken". As simple as it sounds, that terse admonition is perhaps what sets many leaders apart, especially those we admire today. Being authentic means knowing yourself, your leadership style, your strengths and, of course, your weaknesses. It means you are not imitating anyone else's style in handling or responding to situations. Person A's reaction to a certain situation may be different from person B's. We are all unique human beings in our backgrounds, frame of reference and, indeed, in our ways. Therefore, it pays to be yourself and not someone else. After all, there is no a one-size-fits-all approach to life!
  • Be open-minded: Have you ever seen any of these optical illusion photos? It is always fascinating when shown to a group of people and everyone sees something different. This is a testament to the vagaries of the human mind and, indeed, human nature. We all often look but see differently and naturally have individual perspectives and approaches to things. Everyone brings a different input; Some people may be more creative, some more process-oriented and structured, others more empathetic even. Open mindedness helps a leader to absorb, sort through, and tap the various shades of opinion to arrive at sound decisions that meet the followers' expectations. We all need one another – the more the merrier.
  • Listen and communicate effectively: This, I must confess, was one of my commitments having taken the course. One is often tempted to assume that since they had taken time to type out an email or sent across a message in simple, clear words, it must be understood by the receiving party as intended. However, as some may have experienced, that is not always the case. We all view the world and tend to operate from different paradigms. The punchline however is that the responsibility for clear, comprehensible communication rests on the sender; and if the receiving party has not understood the expectations, then he/she must take steps to rectify. John puts it simply "the meaning of communication is the response you get". It also truly pays to listen to understand, and not form hasty conclusions – without first getting the full picture.
  • Build and maintain trust: Almost everything we do revolves around people and relationships. If people do not trust the leader, it may be difficult to get the desired results. In this digital age where we are increasingly working with remote teams, with minimal physical contact, the common pertinent question also encountered during my said leadership course remains 'How do I build trust?' We were introduced to the Ken Blanchard ABCD Trust Model which highlights that competence, integrity, relating to others and being dependable are ingredients for building trust. It is misleading to assume that trust is automatically earned by virtue of position or title. People are trusted to the degree that people believe in their traits. Trust cannot be built overnight, it requires time and effort to establish and maintain. The tip is to remain consistent.
  • Push/Pull effect: The 'push' style of leadership is characterized by being assertive, telling, directing, setting strict deadlines, closely monitoring and so on. By contrast, the 'pull' style involves empowerment, encouragement, collaboration and coaching. From those elements one can glean that not one style is perfect or consistent with research findings. Successful leaders are good at combining the Push and Pull effect to achieve the desired outcome. In any event, ideal leaders should know how and when to push – or pull – their teams.

In sum, the Global Leadership program took us through several theoretical and practical examples including 'Coaching', 'Delegation', 'The Why' concepts, to mention but a few. To summarize my own take-home from the course in one sentence: There is no template for leadership. The secret is to adopt your authentic style which allows you to be flexible and adaptive to any situation.

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