There is a humane element to the best leaders. However, traits that are commonly used to denote strong leadership are often at the tougher and less human end of the emotional spectrum.
Whilst being geared to success is undoubtedly important for any good leader, true leadership is not about winning at any cost; it’s about winning in the right way. Great leaders are not necessarily the loudest or most high-profile person in the room. Leaders who are humble, empathetic and unassuming are often the most impressive.
An empathetic leadership style instils confidence within an organisation and team, partly because there is less focus on self-promotion and more emphasis on bigger picture thinking. People think to themselves, ‘Here is someone who genuinely wants to partner with me and make things happen’. It immediately builds a level of trust and fosters a strong team culture.
Finding your edge
Leadership is not just about empathy though. There is an ‘edge’ required to take good leaders to the next level.
One key thing that a lot of great leaders have in common is that they are very clear and single-minded about the purpose, values and strategy of their organisation and deliver on these areas obsessively. At a recent Moir event, former Socceroo captain Craig Foster spoke about the importance of having clarity of vision and values, “For a culture to develop that you are proud of and that you want to be a part of, you have to actively create it. Don’t try and play a game that isn’t yours.”
Another key component of great leadership is achieving cut-through. Having the ability to work with the information that presents itself, weed out the unnecessary detail and get to the heart of what needs to be done. It’s also the ability to achieve cut-through in your relationships. Good leaders will then take others with them on the journey. This means working effectively with multiple stakeholders, often both locally and internationally, ensuring there is clear communication and that everyone is fully invested in the direction being taken.
As Finance Managers and Controllers take on more of the financial and technical aspects, the modern-day CFO is expected to consult, collaborate, identify strategic initiatives and effect change. “The role of CFO continues to evolve and is often broader now,” Nine Entertainment Co. CFO Greg Barnes told us at a recent event held by Moir Group, “You have to embrace risk and enable your management teams to make better decisions. Shifting the perception of the CFO from gatekeeper to enabler.”
Great leaders are also great problem solvers. They are able to take advantage of opportunities, overcome obstacles and are totally goal obsessed. These qualities help them to develop cultures of execution and get things done. Leadership expert, Paul Mitchell of the human enterprise, who spoke a recent Moir Group event, recognises that challenges that remain undealt with can stifle an organisation “Your problems are not your problem,” he said “Your problem is your inability to solve your own problems.”
Promoting the right leadership skills
Promoting yourself as a strong leader requires reflection to gain clarity about what makes you excellent. This is not something that can be achieved on the fly.
When pursuing opportunities to step into a leadership role, people often put too much emphasis on selling certain aspects of themselves, whilst ignoring other key factors.
Whilst technical and commercial competencies are important for a leadership role, these are increasingly seen as base level requirements by a potential employer, i.e. skills that are expected in any good candidate. These skills do not necessarily make a person excellent. When things come down to the wire, it’s often the human factors that companies base their decisions on.
Before interviewing for a leadership role, go away and take a step back. Think about 3 or 4 things that make you truly excellent. When doing this, make sure you balance the factual evidence with some human elements. If someone is very clear about what makes them excellent and has a depth of thought around that, it comes across really well to a potential employer.
Some relevant qualities to consider may include:
- The ability to plan for the long-term and see the bigger picture
- Having the courage to put your hand up and take on a new challenge
- Not being afraid to stand up and have a different view about an issue
- The ability to be both strategic and hands on
- Completing the circle: The ability to follow through and get things done
Once you have these 3 or 4 points of excellence, use these as a framework to organise your credentials. If anything’s not related to these things, leave it out as it will muddy the picture.
It’s also good to consider what the organisation in question is looking for in a leader. A lot of people (especially as they progress through their career and have more experience), make the mistake of saying they can run the gamut from A to Z. But really a company may only be interested in points A, B and C. Focusing on these key areas will make your offering more concise and relevant.
Making it happen
It’s really important to remember that Leadership is not just reserved for senior level people. Strong leadership is a key thing that organisations look for in any role, no matter what level. Even those at the start of their careers can show leaderships skills and build on these skills for the future.
If you’re keen to develop your leadership skills, a great thing to do is to work on your networks. This is key as people will go out of their way to help someone who has taken the time to build a genuine, human relationship with them. As you climb the ladder, having strong networks could open the door for you with a new opportunity or a transition to a new industry sector.
Another tip for building on your leadership credentials: Don’t be afraid to take on a new challenge in your current role. If you can back yourself and have a go, it speaks volumes about your potential to step up to a leadership challenge in the future. And if you fail, don’t worry, it’s a good thing to learn from your mistakes as you make your journey to great leadership.
Identifying yourself as a leader
Having identified these essential leadership traits within yourself, it’s important to articulate them when selling yourself at a senior level. For those still progressing through their careers, remember to actively develop these leadership traits as a part of your critical skillset.