Great leadership engages the whole organisation and gears it towards success, says Christine Coleiro.
In an increasingly collaborative work environment, does leadership still matter?
Leadership is not about elaborate speeches – it is about setting an ambitious but realistic vision, building trust and empowering the teams to execute the strategy. Research shows how great leadership engages the whole organisation and gears it towards success. So yes, leadership is still relevant and will remain relevant.
The leadership team cannot be separated from the organisation’s goals as these change in tempo with the changes at local and global level. In this fast changing world, basic leadership skills of good judgement, great communication, good technical knowledge, inter- and intra-personal skills and confidence are important but the overarching skill a leader needs to have is adaptability. The dexterity to which a leader adapts to change defines organisational success.
This requires leaders to be continually in learning and development mode and to see that this filters down to all the levels of the organisation.
Leadership – nature or nurture?
Natural leadership traits like integrity, high regard for ethical values, taking responsibility, decisiveness and following something through, play a role in leadership – but there are more parts to the puzzle which need to be fostered in its development. It is ideal to have the leadership seed but research has shown that leadership can be improved.
Leadership is not only about effective problem solving, achieving results or about being honest, committed, disciplined, open to feedback and emotionally intelligent - it is about the learning ability and agility with which a leader matures to be motivational and inspirational. Self-awareness is one of the cornerstones of such development.
What qualities define leadership in today’s world?
The ability to foresee that which is not normally foreseeable and to assess how the various potentially game-changing aspects can be connected to each other even if traditionally such connections are un-thought of. All this must be translated in an inspirational way and broken down in components to which the organisation can attach itself – leaders provide the sense of purpose and scaffold it through the availability of appropriate resources, parallel learning and development opportunities and motivational inputs which encourage ownership.
What are the key roles where leadership is essential?
While each and every role one may need to assume in life, private or otherwise, requires its dose of leadership at the individual level, there are roles which are synonymous to leadership. While the former requires mostly a sense of self-motivation, initiative and disposition to act in a way which adds value in the short to medium term at best, the latter requires the ability to rise high and serve as a drone for the organisation, for the business unit, for the team. Such key leadership roles would need to translate the view from beyond to a vision and a mission.
The more comfortable you are with your mentor, the more likely you are to share your deepest concerns and to attain the greatest value
Apart from the obvious key leadership roles at the very top, each organisation needs to have a string of leadership roles cross-sectionally distributed. This will allow for leadership to permeate down and reach the organisation at all its levels facilitating meaningful networking and nurturing the search for excellence. Leadership becomes distribute; it will contribute to the vision being more holistic, shared, owned and fine-tuned within that same process of achieving it.
Depending on the leadership role one has within an organisation, there will be varying degrees of entrepreneurship, tenacity and relentlessness.
Does a leader need a mentor?
Throughout my career I always found a lot of value in having a mentor. I feel that having someone objective and honest commenting on what I am experiencing has made a difference to my career. It has encouraged me to explore risk without fearing it, to expand my horizon, to network and most of all to realise my potential. Without my mentors I would not have achieved what I have. This is not just my story – it is the experience of a number of leaders across various sectors.
When one is leading, the importance of having a mentor is heightened because a mentor provides you with: an objective opinion and keeps you honest to your endeavours towards a sustainable excellence; a range of experiences which help you adapt to different circumstances and helps you to evaluate difference scenarios; the inspiration and motivation you need to surmount challenging situations; and (self-) reflecting pit stops
Having a mentor from a different role such as a CEO mentoring a CFO has additional value because it puts ideas into an altered perspective. There is no right or wrong formula – it is a question of chemistry. The more comfortable you are with your mentor, the more likely you are to share your deepest concerns and to attain the greatest value. The value of a mentor is gauged by the openness to change of the mentee. If the mentee is set in their ways and is not open to feedback, it would be ineffective to have a mentor.
How does a business develop leadership capacity?
Every organisation at some stage has leadership gaps. The development of leadership capacity requires appropriate and ongoing efforts towards succession planning – and this goes well beyond gap filling in cases of emergencies. In building a solid succession plan, resources need to be invested in identifying future leaders and in encouraging such qualities in key employees who would need to be ready to take on leading roles at the right time.
Over the years, I have seen a number of leaders emerge, but this can’t be left to chance. Leaders need to be earmarked and placed in crucial parts of the organisation and at the helm of different projects and teams.
Development programmes which include coaching or mentoring and cross fertilisation of ideas between departments, companies and industries are crucial. Such training needs to also include attending conferences and seminars which challenge pre-conceived ideas to break boundaries. We need to bear in mind that the leaders of tomorrow will need a different skills set to what we are used to today. Embracing technology in all this is key. Learning and development has taken a different twist and have moved from traditional face to face, to web classes and use online learning. Using a blended learning approach which encapsulates traditional and more innovative learning methods is key to motivate and incite learning at all ages.
Once one is showing readiness to take over, the ambitious expectations would need to be managed. Some might benefit from lateral moves before moving to the role they were groomed for.
Let’s re-energise our organisations by nurturing current and future leaders through development, a sense of purpose and alignment to be equipped to sail the seas as the waves change course and the currents direction.
Christine Coleiro is group chief HR officer at FIMBank plc and is a board member of the Foundation for Human Resources Development (FHRD).