There are thousands of books and courses available in the market today that all promise to teach you the secret formula of becoming a successful leader, however what looks good on paper does not necessarily translate well into the real world.
To become a successful leader requires you to develop your very own unique and authentic leadership style and unfortunately, (here’s the bad news) there is no secret formula to leadership that works every time.
In this article I’ll outline the top five leadership strategies that I’ve personally used with great success and taught to many others over my career. We will also look at why leadership formulas break down and why leadership cannot be taught, it must be experienced.
1. Have a Clear Vision
What I have observed over the years is that all great leaders are driven by a ‘burning desire’ to achieve a crystal clear vision. Where this desire comes is always related to our life experiences. For me, it was towards the end of high school when I met a project manager at a technology company who had just been placed in his new (and highly paid) role by my Auntie who was in recruitment at the time. He took us out for a drive in his shiny red sports car to a local bar where he pulled out a corporate credit card and paid for several rounds of drinks. I was sold; from that point onwards, I had my clear vision and was 100% committed to studying Engineering so I could land a six figure corporate job, an expense account and a sports car. (yes, it’s shallow, I know)
A vision without a date on it is just a dream, so it’s important to turn your vision into goals. For me, the word G.O.A.L. translates literally to Get Out And Lead; there really is no such thing as a leader without a goal. All successful leaders tend to be goal focused and religiously set and review goals for all areas of their lives. When setting goals, in order for them to be effective, it is important that they are clear and quantifiable. I use the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused & Timeframe) test when goal setting, however there are many different models that can be used.
2. Build Your Power Base
In a previous post, The New Rules to Leadership and Power, I discussed how by increasing your referent, expert and informational power using a simple S.M.I.L.E. strategy, you maximise your opportunity to gain more legitimate power through promotion.
3. Identify Great Role Models
Another strategy that I know works without fail is to choose leadership role models who may or may not be in your circle of influence. Don’t be afraid to ask leaders to share with you how they got to where they are today. One of my success rituals is regularly reading books on business and leadership by people that I admire. LinkedIn is another great tool to easily connect with some of the top leaders today in just ten minutes a day. By observing what leaders say and do, you can identify, model and test different leadership strategies to see what works best for you.
4. Embrace Fear – Seize Every Opportunity
If you are given an opportunity to take on a leadership role, DO IT. If you are not given an opportunity, ASK FOR IT. Leaders always put their hands up first and volunteer to take on additional responsibility. You will almost certainly feel FEAR, however this is a great sign that you are stepping outside your comfort zone which is where all growth occurs. All leadership skills take practice to master.
Nothing is more frustrating for employees than having a manager with a “Do as I say and not as I do” approach. Successful leaders lead by example and live and breathe the culture and behaviours that they desire to see in those around them.
Why Leadership Formulas Break Down
In all leadership roles, you will be faced with difficult situations where the pressure is on to make a critical decision. This is where leadership theories and formulas go out the window and people revert to making ‘gut instinct’ or reflex decisions and where lack of experience will often result in freezing or making a poor decision. A good leader is able to adapt their leadership style to the situation, understanding that a single style will never suit all situations.
The best leadership training thus does not focus so much on teaching models or paradigms, rather it gives people real world leadership scenarios and experiences to draw on. The military understands this all too well and their leadership programs are designed to simulate real world situations of extreme stress so the new leaders gain the experience of how to correctly respond in such situations.
Unfortunately, private enterprise lags way behind the military in this area tending instead to promote people beyond their level of competence and band-aid problems after they occur.
So what do you think, is there a leadership formula that never fails for you?
When you are looking to improve your leadership skills or raise the level of leadership and performance within your organisation, Rapport Leadership can help. Our unique experiential leadership programs empower new leaders, business executives and managers alike with the confidence, self-esteem, and focus necessary to significantly improve results and build high performance teams.