by Paddy Barr, Managing Partner, Barr Performance Coaching and IMI associate
There is no magic formula, or prescriptive guide, to developing a successful future leader. Everyone can be a leader if they put their mind to it. Leadership is not a title, but the engagement of a portfolio of competencies, behaviours and attitudes to inspire others to achieve their goals.
It is no exaggeration to say that one of the single biggest legacies a leader leaves behind in an organisation is their successor(s). Developing the next generation of leaders for the organisation will underpin sustained long-term success.
Succession planning is a discipline for all leaders and should include time to develop the next generation of leadership talent in the organisation.
What makes a strong leader?
The primary characteristics and behaviours of a strong leader are:
- Having a vision and sense of purpose for the long term
- The strength of character to act with integrity in all situations
- Clarity of purpose and clarity in communicating the strategy to all stakeholders
- Recognising others – the ability to motivate and inspire a team to implement the strategy
- Develop and promote leadership in others – the ability to have robust processes in place to attract and retain talent culminating in a strong succession plan
- Build community – the building of a strong team and network.
- Confidence and courage – to pursue the strategy and make the tough decisions that will be inherent in the implementation of the strategy
Vision and sense of purpose
Key attributes: Future-oriented, knowing what it is they stand for and/or want to achieve and having the focused drive, energy, passion and courage to pursue their goals.
People will follow individuals with great, well formulated ideas, especially if those ideas are based upon a realistic prospect of success and are aligned to the followers’ core values. A leader who has taken the time out to discover their true purpose will probably end up being more inspiring than an individual who has simply had a title bestowed upon them. The leader is the person responsible for ensuring that the vision for the team is aligned with the company’s overall vision and capable of enabling the company to meet its strategic objectives.
Key attributes: Self-aware, learner, open minded, empathy, integrity (including ethics).
Strong leaders will be very self-aware, possessing the emotional intelligence and integrity to approach situations in a balanced manner. We all know that nobody is perfect, and good leaders prudently solicit help from those who have the skills or competencies that they do not. Increasingly, high calibre people are looking to work with leaders who demonstrate that they have high ethical standards. It is critical in integrity and ethics that the leader is seen to “walk the walk and talk the talk”. Integrity and ethics are not passive or covert traits; they must be publicly demonstrated – especially when times are tough or when the team face a difficult decision.
Key attributes: Clear on vision, goals and expectations
It is important as a leader to demonstrate a focused drive, energy and passion for the organisation’s vision. Ensure that your goals are clear and prioritised; successful leaders always retain their focus on the primary goal and don’t let themselves get distracted by secondary or ‘nice to have’ goals. The value of the secondary goals is diminished if the key priorities are not achieved, so focus is important.
Ambiguity can derail a team very quickly or be the source of discontent within the team. The leader must be very precise and clear when it comes to outlining success factors for the team, and it is essential that these expectations are established early and clearly.
Key attributes: Demonstrate valuing others, listening
Strong leaders will be vigilant in looking for opportunities to recognise the contributions of others on the team. In this regard, the leader will listen intently to what people are saying, looking for opportunities to build on or incorporate a team member’s ideas into the strategy. Additionally, they are also listening for signs of underlying concerns that may be hindering a team member.
Prime motivators for people tend to revolve around doing meaningful work, making an impact and being recognised for their impact or contribution to the team. A good leader will construct their teams so that individuals can perform to the best of their ability and the team deliver more than the sum of the parts. Recognition is critical in sustaining positive behaviours and performance in your team. The leader must take every opportunity to publicly and privately demonstrate that they value the contribution of individuals on the team.
Develop and promote leadership in others
Key attributes: Identify and develop talent within the team, support others with their personal goals, delegate certain aspects of leading to others
A strong leader will recruit high calibre individuals onto the team. In fact, it could be argued that the leader’s most significant contribution to the team is the selection and retention of the talent on the team. The challenge is that high calibre individuals will always want to develop and invariably have other personal goals that they are trying to achieve. Remember, high performers will always be in demand; therefore, it is important as the leader for you to make your team an attractive place to work.
Giving team members the appropriate experience and exposure will be important in the quest to retain talent on the team. Assisting team members with their own needs and broader goals is critical. Team members will most likely be appreciative of the opportunity to learn and grow, and in return will deliver more for the team in the long run.
Good leaders create other leaders, not followers, therefore a strong leader will provide team members with the opportunity to take the lead on certain aspects of an initiative or project.
Key attributes: Promote a sense of belonging to the team or a cause, enabling the team to be successful and do their best work
A person’s sense of self-worth or even identity can be very strongly influenced by the experiences they have within the team. We have an instinct or desire to belong to a community of like-minded individuals who share similar values and hopes and fears for the future. A good leader will foster a sense of attachment and belonging to the team. Even if some individuals on the team work remotely or on unique aspects of the initiative, it is important to make them feel they belong to a bigger collective and ensure that they do not feel isolated.
A key part of making people feel included is to solicit and incorporate their opinions and ideas into the team strategy or protocols. The leader must not only be open to taking on new ideas, but also be curious to invite diverse perspectives.
Confidence and courage
Key attributes: Not afraid to take risks and make tough decisions
Successful leaders tend to know what they want, why they want it, and have a rough plan of how they are going to achieve their goals. They need to have the confidence to share their vision and plans and take feedback where appropriate.
Strong leaders always act. Your energy and passion can be infectious within the team. If you fail to be public in expressing your unwavering commitment to the cause, those around you may lose confidence in you. A leader will be a change agent – they will not simply react to the environment, they will actively look to control their own and their group’s destiny.
The leader needs to be comfortable with controlled experimentation or change that will advance the organisation towards its goals. The change may simply reinvigorate an existing process, but the reinvigoration will energise the team and sustain progress, which is critical in a multi-year initiative.
Very few leaders will escape having to make tough decisions or avoid taking risks. Therefore, it is important that you have the confidence and courage of your convictions to persevere in the face of adversity. The team will watch the leader and gain confidence from their conviction and determination to succeed. As a result, it is important that the leader displays their confidence.
Article first appeared on IMI
About the author
Paddy Barr is the Programme Director for the IMI Future Subsidiary Leaders Programme, in association with IDA Ireland, launching in September. He has over 25 years’ international leadership experience in Operations, Supply Chain & Strategic Management and has held senior roles in Ireland, the UK and the USA.