Category Archives: leadership

Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were: Developing Your People and Mentoring

This is the final post in the series Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were. In this post we will discuss developing your people and mentoring them. You can read the other posts in this series here, here and here.

Develop your people and mentor them

When one of my all-time favorite managers transitioned out of our company earlier on this year, I remember mentioning during his farewell breakfast how he could frustrate me at times. He always questioned the work that I presented to him and having me redo it. This initially would make me feel like nothing I could have done was good enough for him. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he probably saw something in me and was challenging me to realize it for myself. What I realize now is that the questions he always asked me when I presented any piece of work have actually elevated the quality of work that I present to date.

Great leaders recognize that their responsibility includes guiding his/her team to new levels or greater heights. He sees the potential in people and challenges them to realize it. She intentionally influences and develops her reports. They upset the status quo. But most of all, they help to grow you.

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How then can a leader intentionally grow and mentor those who they lead? There are three simple things he or she can do:

  1. Share knowledge: “Knowledge is power,” so the adage goes. As a leader, you probably have more knowledge and information that your reports. To help your team grow, you must hsare this knowledge and information. You must communicate regularly. Encourage your team to seek knowledge and to share it with each other.
  2. Model characteristics you’d like them to have: Character cannot be taught but it can be modeled. An individual, more often than not, is only as good as their manager. The realization that your character will determine the kind of individuals who work with you should spur you to model the kind of behavior that aligns with the company values as well as your personal values.
  3. Give them opportunities: Many times your reports are looking for an opportunity to prove themselves or to embrace a challenge that helps them develop. Be the kind of leader that is keen to identify these opportunities (including leadership opportunities) and present them to your team. Allow them to be challenged and make mistakes (within reason and stepping in when necessary). The more opportunities that are presented, the more you create leaders in your team.

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Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were: Discussing Serving by Leading and Being Vulnerable

This is the third post in the series Becoming that Leader Others Wish They Were. You can read the first post on leaders having clarity and warmth here and the second one on influence and compassion here. This post will expound on great leaders serving by leading and being vulnerable.

Great leaders serve by leading

A leader must lead. Where others see obstacles, he must see opportunities. When others see problems, he must see possibilities…” David J. Vaughan, Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry.

There is a time a leader needs to step up to the podium and lead. It is such a disservice to the followers when the one in charge does not command and give a bearing when the sitaution is tricky.

The leader needs to offer direction that is strategically driven.

She needs to make tough decisions and take responsibility for failures.

He needs to balance strength with grace.

She needs to instruct with integrity and intentionality.

He needs to assess a person’s past failure in light of lessons they’ve learned and their current faithfulness to the task at hand.

When leaders lead, they offer clarity and share their vision. They motivate their followers with their passion. They lead by example – do as I say and do, not just as I say. They make decisions and communicate expectations. They hold themselves to a high standard of excellence and are accountable to others. They are also servant leaders.

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Great leaders are vulnerable

Vulnerability and leadership are not two words that are easily associated with one another. Most of us believe that to be a good leader you should never show any signs of weakness, which is what vulnerability is considered by many. Vulnerability can be defined as being completely and rawly open, unguarded with your heart, mind, and soul. Embracing vulnerability means having the courage to face your fears and the wild uncertainty of the future. A vulnerable leader decides that she will meet that uncertainty with an open heart, willing to experience all the ups and downs that come with it (Brené BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead). 

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Once a leader decides to be vulnerable several things happen:

  • A culture of openness and loyalty is fostered. Performance problems can be resolved once and for all. People relate more easily.
  • He or she becomes more authentic. This in turn builds trust. Authentic behaviors include admitting to your flaws and mistakes, showing emotion, asking for and receiving help, and not hiding behind a manufactured facade.
  • Stronger bonds and connections are built. When leaders are vulnerable, they are more open and emotionally available, which creates more bonding opportunities and improves team performance.

Being vulnerable is part of transformative leadership. Appropriate vulnerability in leaders—being open and guarded in the right ways—can bless both the people a leader works with and the organization as a whole.

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Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were: Discussing Influence and Compassion

In the previous post we introduced some traits of great leaders, and delved into two traits: great leaders having clarity and being warm. This post discusses how great leaders have influence and are compassionate.

Great leaders have influence

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines influence as the power to change or affect someone or somethingthe power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen or a person or thing that affects someone or something in an important way.

To be a great leader, one must be influential. Influence, however, is not acquired in a day. It is a series of deliberate actions over time that allows the individual to eventually move into this position of influence. A leader can have influence in different forms, for example getting people to buy into an idea, challenging status quo, inspiring people, etc.

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For one to become influential, there has to be an element of trust. Trust is that feeling that comes about when individuals believe that the leader is driven by something other than their own personal gain or is the authority in that particular space. Because people have an innate desire to believe in something/someone, they will look to a person who can offer them a cause (48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene). As a result, this leader will be able to influence behavior, performance, events, outcomes and create changes and improvements.

Great leaders are compassionate

The same dictionary also defines compassion as sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Beyond distress, compassion is the art of knowing and understanding the needs of others, understanding their emotional state, being empathetic, having selfless direction. Compassion is what moves a leader to help people, and helping people is the cornerstone of leadership. Compassion opens the individual’s eye to the needs of others so that he or she can provide leadership, security and relief, not just ensure projects are successfully exectued. Having compassion promotes healthy relationships and ensures positivity in an organization.

The Tibetan scholar Thupten Jinpa defines compassion as “a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved.” Specifically, he defines compassion as having three components:

  1. A cognitive component: “I understand you.”
  2. An affective component: “I feel for you.”
  3. A motivational component: “I want to help you.”

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This enables the leader to move from an “I” mindset to a “We” mindset. This leader becomes a ‘Level 5 leader’ (Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins).

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Becoming That Leader Others Wish They Were

In your capacity as a leader, do you think people follow you because they have to or because it is what is expected? This in itself is still effective, as things will get done, but you will never see them perform at the levels that will bring great results until they go beyond the above reasons. These reasons demonstrate an engaged employee at best, but never an inspired one.

Think about the leaders in your past that you followed because you wanted to. What are some words you could use to describe them? They definitely must have had an impact on how you do some things to date and taught you a lot. You could even say they molded you. So, how do you lead people and help them become the best they can be?

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I began reading a devotional series that speaks of leading like Jesus, which has inspired this series of leadership traits/skills that all great leaders must develop, not only for themselves, but also for the people they lead. These are:

  • Great leaders have clarity.
  • Great leaders are warm.
  • Great leaders have influence.
  • Great leaders are compassionate.
  • Great leaders serve by leading.
  • Great leaders are vulnerable.
  • Great leaders develop people.
  • Great leaders mentor.

One thing to note is that having the above traits is not necessarily tied to a certain personality. Anyone can cultivate the above and people will eagerly follow you.

Great leaders have clarity

Leaders are constantly expected to create clarity for themselves, the organization and the people around them. Clarity gives more security and confidence. Clarity allows for people to focus. Without organizational clarity, productivity suffers and turnover increases (Hamish Knox in Management & Leadership). A great leader must define the mission, vision, the game plan, and the expectations of each individual. In addition to the above, these great leaders must communicate the above, clearly of course. 

When there is clarity, a company’s vision can finally be executed on. Some time back, when I was working for a certain start-up in Nairobi, I was told that part of being in a start-up is that we have to be scrappy as we did not know the answers to many of the questions we had. In fact the saying was that, “We are building the plane as we are flying it.” And that was OK. I believe it was part of the attraction initially. However, many of us left because there was no clarity around where the plane was flying to, even if we were building it as we were flying. We felt that a lot of our activities were not informed by a vision, which meant that we were constantly changing directions in short spans of time. Lack of clarity can really cost an organization in many ways.

Clarity also allows for demystification of daily activities. When there is clarity in the leadership realm, a trickle-down effect is observed (of course if you have put in place the correct mechanisms, e.g. proper management). I have seen this in several successful organizations when executing the annual business strategy – the board and chiefs create the strategy for the year, which is then communicated to directors, who then communicate this to managers. Managers then implement this in their teams. All are held accountable with some form of performance management tool that all ties back to the overall business strategy. This increase the overall business productivity, as well as addresses the challenge of uncertainty in the new year.

Great leaders are warm

A person with a warm personality makes other people feel liked, cared for, embraced and accepted. This person is kind and connects with others. Warmth should not be confused with extroversion. Warmth is all about authenticity without narcissism. Warren Bennis says, “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.”

I once worked for the Nairobi office of a company whose headquarters were in South Africa. We in the Nairobi office did not get to interact with our CEO often as he was based in the SA office. However, one thing that we all agreed on regarding our CEO is that you never forgot your encounters with him, however few. Our CEO was a very introverted person. However, whenever he was with other people, he would really connect and engage with each person. I remember meeting him during my orientation session, and felt that he was truly interested in getting to know me better. He had this thing where he could shut out the rest of the world and focus on you and only you for ten minutes. When a situation required compassion, you could feel that he was being genuine in his compassion. In other words, he was authentic in his interaction with people, and was honest about those flaws that made him human. You can bet that many people consider him their role model.

What are your thoughts around clarity and warmth in leaders?

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