Good leadership inspires people to become the best they can be and creates a platform that enables people to showcase and begin exploiting their true potential.
A story about bad leadership
In my mid-20s, I experienced bad leadership within a blue-chip company. I’m not exaggerating when I say my last three years at that company were the most frustrating, confusing and even angriest period in my working life.
I was ambitious. I felt like I had a lot to offer my employer. I wanted to push myself; to take on new challenges. I challenged the status quo. I didn’t just come to work to do a job – I wanted to make a difference.
I wanted to climb the ladder and increase my influence on those around me.
Unfortunately, my manager (for their own reasons) wasn’t prepared to embrace my passion, drive, determination and creativity.
I would regularly have to explain myself and my ideas. The feedback I got was most often negative and conclusive:
- “This isn’t going to work.”
- “There are other people that look after that.”
- “This isn’t part of your job description.”
- “Why don’t you just concentrate on your job?”
I would often speak to people close to me to try and help me understand why my manager was entrenched in managing me in such a negative, condescending way.
The general consensus was that my manager was probably afraid of my ambition, afraid that I may outshine them.
What a crying shame that is.
The nail that sealed the “I don’t ever want to experience bad leadership again” coffin was when a new role was being created in our growing team.
It was a role that I felt I had the drive, passion and willingness to move in to and succeed in. It was a natural progression for my career.
I was ready to stretch myself, I was ready to take on more responsibility. I was ready to increase my influence and impact on this blue-chip business.
What was the feedback from my manager when I went to them expressing my interest in this role?
We are going to look to bring someone in from outside the business. We want someone with more experience than you. It’s okay, there will be other opportunities for you in the future.
Now my manager may have thought that dangling this carrot may have been enough to pacify me.
As it turns out, I had stopped reaching for the carrot a long time before this exchange. I knew I was simply not going to be given the opportunity to exploit my potential with this manager.
Around half-way through this three-year period of experiencing bad leadership, I started to ask myself these questions:
- “Why am I letting my manager hold me back?”
- “How am I going to break free from this?”“
- What more do I have to offer that I’m not being given the opportunity to do?”
Unbeknown to my manager (whom I would continue to work for during the next 18 months), I made the decision that I would start taking control of my own destiny. I made the commitment to myself that I would no longer be held back.
I decided that I was going to work for myself. I started moonlighting in summer 2004, and in summer 2006 I handed my notice in.
I made a commitment to myself that I would never experience bad leadership in my career again.
A story about good leadership
It wasn’t until a few years in to being a freelancer that I started to consider the potential of hiring someone.
My immediate thoughts were that if I do get in to the position of being able to offer someone a job, I was absolutely determined that my management style would be the complete opposite of what I had experienced.
There is a well-known saying in business and leadership: “behaviour creates behaviour.”
In addition, we all know how ideas, beliefs, experiences and perceptions all get ingrained within our minds over time. We also know how hard it can be to embrace change.
For me, although I had never experienced good leadership, never mind truly inspirational leadership, I knew what bad leadership was and I was committed to doing things the right way.
“Anyone who I manage and lead will be given the opportunity to exploit their true potential” was running through my DNA.
It was in early 2008 when I hired my first employee. Since then, I have dedicated time and energy into developing a leadership approach that is true to my aim above.
Here are some of the key attributes of being a good leader, alongside lessons that I’ve learned…
1. Hire exceptional people that have the potential to outshine you
The complete opposite of what I experienced. This ethos has been the key to the growth of my business.
Everyone benefits too, as exceptional people are working alongside exceptional people.
Some teams just work together. Good teams do great things together. Great teams grow together.
2. Praise your team regularly
In the hustle and bustle of daily life running a business and managing people, it can be very easy to miss out on providing praise and recognition when a team member goes above and beyond – or they just do something in their job description exceptionally well.
I have learnt just how important and valued it is to provide praise to individuals, both one-to-one and in a group environment.
After all we just want to do a good job and be respected, right?
3. Catch people in
Not only have I realised the importance of praising individuals, a lesson I have also learnt is how important it is to simply “catch people in”.
The small things people do, the ideas they bring to the table, the creative way they are thinking.
Highlighting the smaller details which add value to the day-to-day running of a business will encourage your team to speak up and champion larger ideas going forward.
Never underestimate the importance of people feeling valued.
3. Take time to find the right people
You’ve heard the saying, “hire slow, fire fast”.
Thankfully the second part isn’t one I have encountered regularly (though the phrase is applicable in a business case) but certainly hiring slowly has been a cornerstone of how we have built the team.
Remember that exceptional people are out there, you just have to be patient to find them.
4. Trust people
When I employed just three people, I published an article titled ‘11 Values That Are Helping Me Build a Great Team at PRWD‘.
In many ways it is the beta version of this article. Point three was “have complete trust in new team members straight away” and this is so important.
Trust your staff and see them flourish with the responsibility you have given them.
5. Throw people in at the deep end
As a direct follow-up on from hiring slowly, taking your time to find the right seat (or as one of my mentors Lily Newman champions, “get the right people on the bus”) can and should lead you on to having the opportunity to put new team members in the limelight very early on.
When it comes to whether a new starter will sink or swim, have faith they will swim.
6. Encourage people to push themselves
Some people have a natural hunger and desire to push themselves.
They want to embrace change, they want to take on new challenges and go outside of their comfort zone. Many people don’t have this natural hunger.
People have a natural tendency to think less of their skills, experiences and ideas compared to those around them.
If you don’t provide everyone – irrespective of their natural hunger – a platform and opportunity to open their mind, you are likely missing out on valuable insights to help your business, and the chance at helping your team realise the potential you see in them.
Every human has the ability to offer more than they think – they just need to be inspired to go outside their comfort zone and think “what if I…”
7. Create ways for people to fast track their careers
One of the things that genuinely gives me goosebumps is when I see my colleagues doing things which they probably expected to only be doing years later – or not even at all.
One of the areas we explore during the interview process is the candidate’s response to changes in their life, and what they feel about facing up one of humankind’s biggest fears, public speaking.
I have been doing public speaking since 2009 and I am often able to provide my team with speaking opportunities within their first year of working in the business, something which took me over five years to reach.
Leaders should harness what they have to help their team achieve things far quicker than then did.
8. Embrace the 34-hour working week (or don’t let the business completely consume your team)
I run an agency and there are few if any agencies who have a 34-hour working week. In fact, there are few businesses globally who have a 34-hour week.
For me, even before I became a father for the first time, having a healthy work-life balance was crucial for me.
There was no way I was going to let running a business mean I didn’t have much of a life outside of my business.
There is no work-life balance – there is just a life balance that you have to work on.
9. Be human
Some would look at my leadership style and come to the conclusion that I’m a little too open; maybe I share too much.
The way I see it, I am just being a leader who isn’t afraid of exposing his weaknesses and explaining what he is working on in order to become a more positive leader.
In this age of robots and artificial intelligence, being relatable and communicative with my team leads to stronger team dynamic; one built on trust and understanding.
This will lead to a team working together and for one another, rather than simply logging their hours and ticking boxes.
The more human you are, the more you connect with your team.
10. Be approachable
It is easy to get consumed with the day-to-day activities of running a business. It is easy to be in your “leadership bubble” and want to focus on just what is in front of you.
Some people may perceive this as ‘unapproachable’.
For me, I have learnt that being approachable, giving my team the confidence that, irrespective of their role or position in the business, they can come and talk to me, is invaluable.
It ensures I am staying connected with my team, even when new levels of management are being created.
Never underestimate the value of being approachable by any member of your team – it brings you even greater respect from everyone.
11. Be genuine
I have to hold my hands up and say ‘Be Genuine’ is one of my company’s brand values, alongside ‘Be Expert’, ‘Be The Change’, ‘Be Experimental’, ‘Be Open’ and ‘Be Happy’.
Being genuine and having integrity is absolutely essential if you are to create a culture that empowers people to want to be the best they can be.
Being frank and honest and showing some of the inner workings of the business, whether good or bad, isn’t a case of “showing too much” or “worrying your team” – it is simply demonstrating that you are real.
With your team believing in you and sharing in your vision as a result, it will only help you and your business grow and flourish.
Don’t try to be someone that you aren’t – just be yourself and you will be respected.
12. Be transparent
I have huge amounts of admiration for the brand Crew. It is one of the most open and transparent businesses I have come across.
The leadership style within Crew is the complete opposite of the vast majority of businesses.
It reminds me of one of the statements from the exceptional book ‘REWORK’ that has stayed with me for a long time – “out-teach your competition, don’t be afraid of explaining how you do what you do – customers will respect you and come to you.”
Expose areas of your business that will encourage your team to have a greater sense of belonging.
13. Have humility
One of the greatest lessons I have learnt during my entrepreneurial journey is that no matter how much knowledge and experience you amass, you should never disrespect or disregard the ideas and opinions of other people.
Always provide people with the opportunity and confidence to share with you their very best ideas, especially if it’s in a subject area you aren’t an expert in.
Humility is actually the cornerstone of my article “Re-invented HiPPO”. The new HIPPO entails a list of attributes to which we should all aspire: Humility, Integrity, Passion, Positivity and Openness.
Respecting other people is one of the greatest ways to build trust and confidence.
What does good or bad leadership mean to you?
What leadership traits are you experiencing as an employee? Are they providing you with the platform from which you can exploit your true potential?
If you are a leader, what is it that you feel gets the very best out of your team?