What makes a leader worth following? Following someone who leads a winning team or organisation is also an attractive proposition. After analysing the data of one million 360-feedback reports, authors Zenger and Folkman (Speed 2016) determined that speed and effective execution are the secrets to competitive advantage. Effectiveness is an important qualifier, and one they say needs development through companion behaviours like ‘exhibiting strategic perspective’. Being able to see far and weigh the consequences keeps the team on a winning track.
Winning is not the only aspect of leadership that earns merit from followers. Another study of 195 leaders in 15 different countries ranked ‘nurtures growth’ (Giles, 2016) as one of the top ten most important leadership competencies. Encouraging others is a crucial piece of being a leader worth following. Keeping people in sight, as well as the big picture, are two lenses of successful leadership.
Leadership worth following is always a balance of two sets of tensions: now and next, and team and task. Leaders need to focus on now to ensure immediate threats and opportunities are handled while anticipating and planning for what’s next. Leaders also swing between the priorities of task, getting work done, and team, ensuring the people are up to the task. Our focus is in constant oscillation.
Leadership perspective is like reading a map: we need to know where we are, and where we need to go next. Here is our leadership geo-locator to help us navigate complexity.
Perspective: how to see far, deep, and wide
Sophisticated leadership emerges with our ability to see and handle complexity. When we see patterns, and not just points, we have taken our gaze from the urgency of now to the broader view of what has come before and what might come next. Smart leaders are students of history, aware of patterns in their organisation over time, in their community and country, and around the globe. Mindfully tracking emerging trends and considering their impact is the leader’s crystal ball technique.
Savvy leaders know that visible problems are a result of complex issues. Below the surface of challenges lie the patterns of behaviour built on an organisation’s system. Struggling with personality clashes? Digging a few layers down and we may find one of these systems generating the problematic behaviour: delegation, remuneration, promotions, and decision-making. We need to look at causes, not just symptoms.
The Edelman Trust Barometer (Feb 2020) revealed 91% of Australian respondents believed “Stakeholders, not shareholders, are most important to long-term company success.” Business care and responsibility goes beyond shareholders and includes employees, customers, communities, and the environment. This is not just a triple bottom line approach, but an ever expanding sense of responsibility and care for the ripples we cause.
In the mirror
An additional secret of leadership perspective is in more familiar territory. When we put up the mirror to explore our own behaviour, we can see ourselves better. It’s only with humility that we can be open to learning and thus to growth.
When we look, far, deep and wide we can make smarter decisions for the betterment of more people and places. When we confront the truth of what we see in the mirror, it keeps us humble. When we see more, we can lead better. That’s leadership worth following.
Zoë Routh is Australia’s leadership expert specialising in the people stuff. She shows leaders and teams struggling with silos and office politics how to work better together. She is the author of People Stuff: Beyond Personality Problems – An Advanced Handbook for Leadership. For more information on Zoë’s work, go to www.zoerouth.com