Strong leadership is an essential ingredient in organizational success. Understandably, the topic of leadership attracts a lot of attention. Organizations train, develop, align and build capacity to enhance leadership capabilities. Yet, all too often, the focus becomes perfecting policies and plans to achieve operational excellence. Despite the most thoroughly considered strategies, I am constantly amazed by how often leaders completely miss the mark in execution because they don’t have a supportive following.
I am struck by the number of times I see really smart people exhibit really poor leadership qualities, proving intelligence is not a true barometer of leadership ability. It’s time to strip away the business school buzz words and return to basics. Ultimately, leadership is about motivating people to achieve a common task. It’s a simple concept to understand but hard to implement.
To better comprehend what makes a great leader, we need to consider why people follow great leaders in the first place. To paraphrase a client and friend, when evaluating leadership potential, the skill we seek is not leadership but the ability to build followership. This is a subtle but poignant difference that places the spotlight brightly on the human element of leadership.
As I see it, those most adept at building followership share a sincere and authentic approach to human interaction. They are hard working and intelligent, of course, but they are also accessible, honest, and humble. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with numerous individuals who have embodied this authentic approach to leadership, including local examples like Ray Ivany, President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia University and Pierre-Yves Julien, CEO of Medavie Inc. In their presence you feel appreciated, valued and heard. They build rapport quickly, and it has nothing to do with how smart they are. They have a mastery of the fundamentals of human interaction which transcend technical capability. Paired with a strategic vision, leaders who exhibit these qualities connect at a human level and build a connection that motivates people to follow them on the journey.
The type of leadership I’m referring to has nothing to do with rank or position in an organization. Many people confuse position with the ability to lead. Leveraging a title is an ineffective way to build a following. Many of our best leaders come from within the rank and file. They are individuals who rise to a challenge, exhibit the characteristics noted above and generate a feeling amongst their peers that they warrant followership.
An authentic and collaborative style of leadership comes more naturally to some than others. But we can all benefit from actively developing our own self-awareness and reflecting on how we interact with others every day. To the young leaders of today, I encourage you to forget about the accolades. Instead, focus on developing those around you. Listen to their ideas with sincere interest and consideration. Make your team a part of the solution. Jump in the way of criticism, and dodge the kudos – instead celebrate team success. Do not worry about being challenged by your team – healthy dialogue is good. Instead, concern yourself with any reluctance to approach you with new ideas. Focus on connecting with the hearts and minds of people first, and success will follow you.
Mark Surrette, is president of Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, Atlantic Canada’s leading recruitment and human resource consulting firm, a proud partner of 21inc. and an active participant in the nomination and selection process of emerging leaders.
This article originally appeared it the 21inc Special Information Feature in Progress Magazine. Vol.20 NO.08 2013. Download PDF of Feature.