Here’s the latest in our leadership series. We ask a range of entrepreneurs, business owners, experts, women and men from a range of sectors and industries: ‘What Does Leadership Mean to You?’ Donna Herdsman, replies.
My overriding view is that we are all leaders. Family members, work colleagues, friends, someone within your extended circle of acquaintances, will be influenced by what you’ve achieved, how you lead your life and how you engage with others. It is from this perspective that I highlight some of the things I have learnt so far about leadership.
Invest in your own development
I believe that education is a critical element in all leaders. Whether it be formal education or an ongoing desire to stay abreast of issues that are shaping the world and ultimately likely to shape your business and/or services. I think it’s important to be inquisitive about life and that learning is a never-ending process. More importantly, people who you lead will want to know your thoughts on the issues you are collectively facing and ultimately how they think you should overcome them.
It’s almost impossible to expect your team to commit to developing themselves, if you as a leader are not prepared to show, via your actions, that you are committed to your own continued development.
Understand your leadership style, impact on others and be flexible
When I arrived to work with the Government of Mozambique in the 1990s I was tagged as a contracts expert. To be effective, however, I needed to marry my expertise with the operational and cultural dynamics of how Mozambicans did business, whilst maintaining my ethical and professional values. I sought and secured coaching and sponsorship from many, but two people, an advisor who had been working with the government and my client were particularly helpful.
Why was coaching important? Well, I came to realise that by acting as if I was still in the UK and assuming they understood how I worked, I was going to get nowhere fast. By being flexible I was able to demonstrate that I was prepared to embrace the things that were culturally important to them and not impose the UK approach to things.
We have choices about how we behave as leaders. Often the working environment and how we see others behave provides the point of reference that we model our initial behaviour on.
I remember one of my very first managers was always extremely critical of the work produced by the whole team,( me included). At first, I thought that was the way to get the best out of people, as I knew that I always wanted to do better. However, over time, I realised that I had the power to be my own kind of leader but to do so required me to invest in myself.
What did I really know about the organisation I worked in and their strategic objectives but most importantly how I directly contributed and added value to what we were seeking to achieve. By asking myself what made me tick, I was also able to look at and understand that we all have different motivations. If you can understand your team and motivate them, then you can achieve and sustain teams that are high performing.
Find and be the real you
Being authentic is critical to being the real you. However, finding the real you can often be a process of elimination or in reality, a journey of discovery. Just as you are not the same person you are today as you were ten, five or even two years ago, understanding who you are what you stand for can change over time. Akin to the process of growing is learning from others, seeking guidance and often learning new skills and approaches that were previously alien to you. Making those internal changes to who you are, rather than being a shadow of someone else, is what leaders do. They observe, enquire, try out, then decide how they, wish to proceed as their real selves.
Akin to the process of growing is learning from others, seeking guidance and often learning new skills and approaches that were previously alien to you. Making those internal changes to who you are, rather than being a shadow of someone else, is what leaders do. They observe, enquire, try out, then decide how they, wish to proceed as their real selves.
If you simply copy what you see others do, can you build trust, and will others follow you?
Understand and play to your strengths
A good friend of mine once pointed out that by focusing on all the things that I knew I had to do better, I had forgotten to think about and understand my strengths.
Why is that important? Because when recruiting people and/or building teams, by focusing on the skills you need to be a success, you are more likely to look beyond your own capabilities and find those who can fill the gaps you know are critical to the teams’ success.
I know that I have often recruited people who to some degree frighten me. For example, they are more organized, more focused or lateral thinkers. It’s not that I don’t know how to do those things, but it’s much more informative for me as a leader when I have people in my team for whom those attributes are second nature. As I hope they will learn from me, I, in turn, will learn from them, sponsor them, and in some small part help them as they develop into our leaders of tomorrow.
Donna Herdsman has over 28 years experience as a management consultant and as an Executive having worked for and with UK and overseas Public and Private Sector organisations that include London Borough of Lambeth, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, IBM and most recently Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.
She was recognized as one of the Upstanding 100 BAME Executives in US, UK and Ireland (May 2016) and won the First Women Mentor of the Year Award (June 2017). @dmsenterprise