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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jul 16, 2021


In this episode we look at why a philosophy of leadership is important, and how you might develop your own philosophy.



Hello and welcome to episode 120 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. In fact, this episode marks three years of the Leadership Today podcast. Thanks so much for being a part of that. The podcast has reached tens of thousands of people and I always appreciate your feedback and input. In this episode we look at why a philosophy of leadership is important, and how you might develop your own philosophy.

Whether we recognise it or not, we all have a philosophy of leadership. It’s the lens through which we view leadership. There are aspects of that philosophy that you have no doubt consciously developed, but there will also be parts that are more accidental in their origins. Why does our philosophy of leadership matter? Because it shapes the way we think, feel and act about issues of leadership. For example, if you believe people are born leaders, then you probably also believe that others aren’t born leaders - that will influence your decisions and actions. If you believe leadership is just about managing people downwards, that will also influence your decisions and actions.

I’m going to share my philosophy of leadership with you. I don’t expect you to necessarily agree with all of these points. In fact, it’s great if you don’t! Particularly if that helps to shape your own philosophy of leadership that you apply to you and others.

I will start with the definition of leadership that we use at Leadership Today, which is “achieving results through people for good”. That’s what leaders do. I firmly believe that leaders leave the world a better place. Leadership is for good - the good of the people we serve, the organisation where we work, but also for the communities and families around our organisations. Inherent in that definition of leadership is a balancing act. Leadership is absolutely about achieving results - if you’re not achieving results you’re not leading. And leadership is absolutely about people - leaders deliver through people. If we become unbalanced, that’s where the problems start. If you focus just on results and forget about the people, you’re not going to achieve results for very long. Equally, focusing just on people and paying inadequate attention to results is ultimately not good for the people you serve. Creating a nice, soft environment with low expectations and standards is actually awful for people. We need to focus on both parts - “achieving results” and “through people”, and always link that to the good.

I believe that we can all be leaders. That leadership is about the influence we have on others in the pursuit of results for good. Therefore if you have influence, then you are a leader. Sure, leadership can be downwards, but it can also be across, and up, and ever outside our organisation. Leadership isn’t just what we do at work.

In balancing the ‘achieving results’ and ‘through people’ components, we are best placed if we dial up both challenge and support. People often misunderstand psychological safety - thinking that it’s just about supporting people and making the workplace safe. It’s also about providing a challenging and stimulating place to work. Just as being over-stressed is bad, so is being chronically under-stressed. It’s far better to increase the challenge as you also increase the support. That’s what leads to growth in others.

The way we balance results and people is through aligned motivation - that’s the vehicle of leadership. In a perfect world we have a group of people who are motivated and heading in the same direction. There’s no point having a motivated team if they are all heading in different directions. Equally there’s no point having an aligned team that clearly understand the desired direction, but aren’t motivated to get there. 

The catch is that we can’t motivate anyone directly. I can’t force someone to be motivated. And I can’t motivate someone just through personal enthusiasm in a hope that some of my motivation might rub off. Instead, as a leader I need to create an environment and conditions that align with and unlock the motivations of individuals. You can’t do that without understanding your people.

The research I’ve undertaken suggests there are six practices that outstanding leaders undertake - reflecting, inspiring, developing, connecting, delegating and clearing. If you’re interested in those, you can check out our online course at Leadership Today On-Demand that explores each of these in more detail. Chances are that there are two daily practices you are great at, two you are okay at, and two that you tend to neglect.

I believe that everyone is a born leader. That we all have a head start in some area of leadership, and that we will always need to work on other areas of leadership. As a leader you never stop learning.

And, finally, I believe that leadership needs to be sustainable. There’s not much point being a great leader for a month or two and then collapsing in a heap. We all need routines that allow for challenge, ongoing development and times of recovery.

So that is my philosophy of leadership, gained through research and experience. Can I encourage you to bullet point out your own philosophy of leadership? You can use mine as a starting point if you would like - it’s all in the show notes. But, better yet, why not just list yours out first. Knowing our philosophy of leadership shapes both the way we lead and how we interact with others.

If you have been following Leadership Today for a while, you will also know that my philosophy of leadership development is driven by your challenges and areas of interest. Our Leadership Today App is a great way to undertake your leadership development in your own time. Just go to your App Store and search for Leadership Today. There you can sign up for a monthly or annual subscription, or take our 30 day free trial. I encourage you to then take a look around and dip into the topics that are most interesting and relevant to you. Have a great week.