Key elements to becoming a leader

2012-10-05 00:00

AT the age of 28, I found myself heading up a division of an insurance company, which was part of General Electric, in the U.S. As the only woman on the leadership team and 10 years junior to most of the others, I felt out of my depth.

What did I know about leadership? How would I exert my authority and take control? How would I lead my team effectively?

I was about to head down the road of many leaders, who are ill-equipped to take on the role, and blunder in showing that I had no fear and knew exactly what to do.

My mentor gave me the best advice, that leadership is about getting the best out of people. You need to give up control in order to get it. Don’t rush in pretending to know everything. Be humble, be yourself, listen and learn.

If you want power in your organisation you have to build trust.

After a decade of working with leaders in the U.S., Europe and South Africa on business improvement initiatives, it is clear that the key driver to a successful change is leadership. That takes maturity, courage and generosity.

I’ve learnt that emotions are wasted on frustration, fear and judgment. Emotionally intelligent leaders transform frustration to excitement, fear to courage and judgment to curiosity. It is only when we develop these critical emotional skills that we are able to lead in a complex environment.

Etsko Schuitema, who developed the Care and Growth Leadership model, believes that benevolent leadership is a key component for sustainable change interventions. Leaders who give appropriately, create conditions known as a legitimate relationship of power and will receive the types of behaviours they are looking for.

There are a few key elements that benevolent leaders need to give.

• Care: The opposite of care is not hate, but indifference. Schuitema’s research has shown the levels of trust between management and employees are directly related to the levels of care that management demonstrates towards employees.

• Means: People need to be given the tools, the leader’s time, targets, direction, authority and feedback.

• Ability: People need the skills to do the job and the context of why it is important.

• Accountability: People only grow if they are held accountable. They must be held accountable for doing things right and also held accountable for doing things wrong.

Leaders who criticise and blame their people for all the problems don’t realise that there are no bad soldiers, just bad generals. Build a team with the right people from the start and give them the care, means, ability, and accountability, and you will get the best out of people.

Debbie McCarthy is the founder and director of a leading business improvement service provider, trainer, leadership consultant and director of public benefit organisation Singakwenza. Her experience in multiple industries has exposed her to challenges in both the corporate and non-profit environment.

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