Last week I was invited to share my thoughts with Danny Kelly on BBC Radio WM about leadership following a YouGov survey which revealed that 59% of respondents felt that Ed Miliband appeared ‘weak.’
I shared 3 key attributes which I feel are key attributes of great leaders : 1) The ability to engage, 2) having a commanding physiology and 3) being prepared to be vulnerable.
You can listen to the whole interview (8 mins) below.
There are other traits which I believe make a strong leader and add to what I said in the interview.
I’m taken back to a book I read many years ago that had a profound effect on me and shaped the way I developed as a leader.
Steven R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has been a permanent fixture in my book collection for many years. Below I have outlined my adaptation of five of his key principles that I believe translate into practical behaviours for strong leaders.
#1. Be Proactive.
The strong leader is always on the front foot understanding that they cannot control everything around them. They know that they are not defined by their circumstances or conditions but rather they are defined by how they respond in situations.
The weak leader is caught on the back foot. They believe that they are helpless, a victim of circumstance and that the solution to the problem always lies with someone or something else.
For example, imagine the performance of a team is suffering. The strong leader will look at themselves first and ask “what is it that I could do differently to help improve the situation?” They will step forward, accept responsibility and become part of the solution.
The weak leader will see the problem elsewhere and seek to apportion blame, declaring that it is others that need to change in order to improve things. They will step back, absolve themselves from any responsibility and believe that the solution exists outside of themselves.
#2. Begin with the end in mind.
The strong leader has a clear vision and makes daily decisions consistent with travelling in that direction.
The weak leader’s decision making is moment to moment. They are a random collection of choices that may or may not help achieve what they want.
The strong leader knows that establishing the end game first is critical to overall success. They understand that if they know where they want to be, then they can make better choices day to day moving towards what they want rather than away from it.
For example, imagine you are leading within an organisation and are asked to identify cost savings. It would be easy to look down your departmental budget and pick out the big numbers to slash. This might win you some ground in the short term but what if those things that were cut are crucial to the long term success of your business? What if the very things that win you points now are the cause of your demise later?
#3. Put first things first.
Strong leaders focus on the ‘must’ do tasks whereas weak leaders focus on the ‘nice to do’ things.
Where as begin with the end in mind was about the mental preparation and creation, putting first things first is about the physical creation.
In a constantly ‘on’ world you can easily find yourself being busy doing things all day, but are they the right things? Are they the most urgent or important? Or are you doing them because you like to do them?
Take email as an example. Do you respond to every message pretty much as soon as it comes in? Does the ‘ding’ of email arriving suddenly jolt you into action?
Of course there are urgent emails and messages which need an instant reply and I bet if you really think about it there are very few that actually need that level of immediate response in reality.
What are big important things you should be doing instead? The things which will move you closer to your objective?
If you don’t have a clear end game then how can you know what is and what isn’t urgent?
#4. Seek fist to understand and then to be understood.
The strong leader listens…really listens, the weak leader simply hears what is being said.
Most people think they are good listeners but in reality they can still be much better.
In words of William Stringfellow –
“Listening is a rare happening among human beings. You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your own appearance or impressing another, or trying to decide what you are going to say when the other person stops speaking”
When weak leaders listen, they cannot wait for their turn to speak. They are eager to get their views across and say things like “I understand where you are coming from but…” or “I agree with that but…”
Strong Leaders hold the intention to fully understand before they respond. They are totally present in the conversation and have no compulsion to jump in a share their view. Their purpose is not to agree or disagree, but understand fully the other point of view before deciding how they respond.
#5. Sharpen the saw.
Strong leaders are consistent practitioners, weak leaders are dabblers in what is flavour of the month.
If you took an inventory of all of the things you know, all the knowledge you’ve gained from courses and books how long would the list be? If you were then asked exactly how much of it you consistently practice, how much shorter would your list be?
The strong leader knows that practice is a constant discipline which enables your skills to remain sharp and effective. If Tiger Woods, Roger Federer or Michael Jordan only practised their skills during game time, they wouldn’t have been half as good as they were. The investment in constant practice is what helped them to step up their performance in live situations.
Similarly, if you only practice listening in a conflict situation are you really going to be an effective listener? If you only put first things first on occasion how can you expect you plans to work?
The full 7 habits are a great simple set of principles of life and business but the biggest lesson I learned about strong leadership is this….
Strong leaders do not wait for permission, need titles or require followers. Strong leaders lead themselves first knowing that it is their actions which will inspire others to follow them.
What do you think makes a strong leader? Please leave comments below.
If you need help with becoming a stronger leader or developing the leadership skills of your people then check out Vinspired Coaching or give me a call.