Leadership Mistakes

Vital Leadership

Christophe asked:

Acronyms work. So here’s another one. Leadership should be VITAL – full of life and energy, and including at least the following five qualities.

V is for Vision

‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’, said the prophet. And it’s not just the people who suffer if there’s no vision: the leader does as well. One thing is sure – if you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there. And the world is full of leaders who are exhausted simply because their lives have been reduced to dealing with the next crisis, meeting the next need, preparing the next paper or coping with the next external demand. The result: they never know whether they have succeeded or not – because they have never known what they were aiming at.

It’s hard to take time to form a vision for your own life, or for an organisation. It’s hard because you are busy; but it’s also hard because having a vision entails risk. Without a vision, you can’t really fail, but a vision gives you a way of measuring how you’re getting on. So if you don’t really believe you can succeed, you won’t be keen to build a vision.

But what’s the alternative? In the end, a life without satisfaction, in which you continue to be driven by crises. You need a vision – for your own sake. And your organisation needs a vision, so that the people involved know what the point of all their well-meaning activity is; so they too can feel a sense of success and achievement.


I is for Intelligence

We all know that great leaders don’t need a huge education – the world is full of examples (Richard Branson et al) of leaders who haven’t developed their formal education. But we mustn’t mistake qualifications for intelligence. They’re not the same thing at all.

Some qualifications do show that you have a high or low IQ – the old-fashioned way of measuring logical intelligence of a very restricted type. But while some of the skills and knowledge that can be taught in schools, colleges and universities are going to be useful in later life, the most useful kinds of intelligence are EQ and SQ.

EQ is emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage your own and other people’s emotions. Daniel Goleman is the name most associated with work on this. You may have a tremendously high IQ, and all sorts of qualifications, but an extremely low EQ. Like me, you may have met medical doctors who are very clever, but have appalling habits in the way they treat people, both patients and colleagues. They have succeeded because when they qualified, knowledge was valued above EQ; but if they fail to deal with their patients as whole people, they are poor doctors. The same could be said of some business leaders, some educators, some leaders in the voluntary sector, some religious professionals.

SQ is spiritual intelligence, as outlined by Danah Zohar and others. SQ isn’t specifically religious – it’s about the kind of intelligence that recognises and taps into values and meaning and purpose. Most leaders come to recognise that such qualities are important if their lives are to do anything more than just increase the bottom line. And SQ is the kind of intelligence needed if you are going to form a vision that will be of any lasting use – the kind of vision that deals with the world and its people as it really is, and seeks to contribute to the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants.


Time Management

We all need time. And none of us has enough of it (though most of us would probably admit to wasting a lot of it). But time becomes a different kind of commodity when you have a clear vision of what you are meant to be doing, and use it to express and develop your EQ and SQ.

Time management courses can teach you some skills; and they aren’t hard to master. But what is hard is to have enough energy and vision to motivate yourself to keep on managing your time, day by day and week by week.

If you have a vision, though, you can see what matters in time; what is important rather than merely urgent. And if you use time well, you can have a sense of achievement each and every day, rather than once in a blue moon when a one-off event happens to go well, or you land a big contract. And if your vision springs out of your SQ values, and enables you to use your EQ to get the best results for your colleagues and the people you serve – well, that’s fulfillment.


Availability to coach

So how available should leaders be? Do you have an open door policy at your office or study, or in your life as a whole? Do you deal immediately with what comes along, whenever it comes along? Do you get your hands dirty and fill in the gaps that others have left, through their inexperience or inability?

There are large numbers of leaders who are wrung out, because they confuse availability with availability to coach. In an organisation of any complexity, leaders have to be coaches. They have to know how to enable others to do the work; how to develop the skills of their people, whether those people are paid staff or volunteers.

Availability to coach is not availability to solve problems; it is the ability to make time to help others learn – especially to develop their EQ and SQ skills. Instead of solving problems, leaders need to have the courage to believe that answers can be found by other people as well, and to ask the questions that will help others to do just that.

So be available, yes – but available to coach, not to solve or sort or sympathise or soothe.


Letting others do the work

OK, so you’ve done all this – got your vision, used your EQ and SQ as well as your IQ, put your time to good use and coached your colleagues. Now you have to have the courage to let others get on with the work.

You are good at what your people are doing – that’s why you are a leader. You are probably better than they are – that’s why you have been selected and appointed. You would do a better job than they would, on many occasions. But if you do it, you are failing as a leader and run the risk of burning yourself out. And let’s face it, that’s bad for you and your organisation. So let go.

Letting go is a crucial skill for sustainable leadership. Build it into your vision; build it into your time management; build it into your life. The greatest leaders are the ones whose people say, when all is done, ‘we did it ourselves’.

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