Part 3: What do we each have to do to make our leadership contribution?

July 29, 2017

Our leadership contribution is indelibly entwined with our leadership purpose and must be something that we can measure to be credible. In the next post I will describe how we can measure our contribution, but in this post I want to talk about how we actually go about making our contribution.

When the selection process is run and you are the leader you have the seat at the table and your fine words have been heard. The world waits for you to act. How should you act? I want to reference back at this point to my earlier remarks about acting consciously and purposefully; you are a role model for your leadership purpose and I want you to occupy this role as much as your energy permits. What follows are ten short points to help you make your leadership contribution:

  • Narrate what you do. As part of acting purposefully let others see and hear what you are doing and why. Explain your motive, the cause and the effect, note the outcome and comment on your effectiveness. Let others know what you want of yourself, so that they may know what to ask of themselves.
  • Get the basics right and encourage these disciplines in everyone (and I mean everyone). For example in respect of meetings:
    • Start meetings on time
    • Finish meetings on time
    • Always have an agenda
    • Chair meetings respectfully
    • Always follow up on actions

I know this is management 101, but that doesn’t lessen its importance. Getting the basics right in respect of meetings, email, comm’s generally and dealing with low level disruptive behaviour (to name just a few things) makes a huge difference.

  • Manage your time brilliantly. For example cancel meetings that are not with purpose, substitute yourself in meetings if the better contribution can be made by someone else and call people in person rather than adding to aimless email chains. However NEVER let your actions in such respects be interpreted as high-handed or arrogant. Always speak quietly, always explain, always respect, always listen in case you have got it wrong, and always be prepared to change your mind if you have got it wrong.
  • Be interested in the lives of the people around you. Each will have a complex hinterland of competing needs of which work is but a part. Their ability to perform is often determined by the way they can manage their individual competing needs. You do not have to be their friend, you should not seek to be their friend, but you can be concerned, you can be genuinely interested and you can support them to create the balance they need to be effective contributors at work. The always very impressive General Counsel at Shell, Donny Ching, has a memorable phrase, “Our colleagues very often hold the rice bowl for their families”. Please therefore own the part you play in helping your colleagues to be valuable and effective.
  • Make decisions. Make decisions every day. Own the responsibility of decision making, but also own the consequences of your decisions. Be open to feedback, listen, explain and listen some more. Your poor decisions are obviously not to be celebrated, but they will not undermine you if you have a reputation for listening. People want you to succeed, but they want to be involved, not separated from what you decide.
  • Make time to be thoughtful and therefore creative. Rushed leaders are rarely as thoughtful or creative as their talent would suggest they should be. Instead they react to what they hear, relying on instinct and (if they are honest) their personal assessment of the person asking them. Your duty as a leader is to act thoughtfully and consistently; you therefore need time to think. I will not believe you if you tell me that you only need three hours sleep a night, or you do your best thinking at 1am, or that you are such a great judge of people that you don’t need to read what they send you. You are paid well, your duty is to be prepared, to have a clear plan, to communicate brilliantly, to manage people so they can be their best; if you do not make time to think you disrespect them and you disrespect your talent.
  • Linked to this point is that you need to give time to your colleagues too. Be present for them, not distracted by anything else that is going on for you. If you can create five minutes of calm, focussed attention, listening beautifully and asking questions that show you care, you will have a more valuable experience than 30 minutes interrupted by calls, papers you are half reading and your PA telling you that you need to see someone else waiting outside. More than this, you will also set the expectation for recipients of this level of attention and they will come better prepared and hungry to share their thoughts with you.
  • Every relationship matters. It is self-evident that executive colleagues will see more of you than your more junior team members, but every contribution matters and every person matters too. If they are part of your world be sure you know the part they play, respect it, value it and let them see that you care. People will never want to waste your time, but you must never make them feel, even inadvertently, that they might be wasting your time.
  • To make our contribution, to fulfil our purpose we will need a functioning and well utilised support network. Family and friendships are critical to your success. I am absolutely convinced of this and will happily argue my point with my last breath; for family and friendships to support you then you have to be willing to be vulnerable, to accept help and to value help.  Hubris with people who care for you, by itself almost disqualifies you from being considered a true leader. In this space I will also include having an external mentor. This is about your personal support network keeping you at your best. Any argument against this casts doubt in my mind that you have been truly tested and if you want to fulfil your potential you are going to be tested time and time again.
  • Accepting that you will have days when you feel vulnerable and need help is perhaps the single biggest step you will make in your personal journey to leadership. Great leaders are vulnerable and find ways to build support around them. Poor leaders deny vulnerability and are ultimately undermined. However they are undermined not by their vulnerability, but by their failure to build support around them.

These points are not an exhaustive list and it is not a comprehensive view, but my belief is that the more we adhere to these ten points the more we increase the probability of delivering our leadership contribution and fulfilling our purpose.

Take care. Paul

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