Do you understand the difference between a practical leader and an ideal leader? We hear so much about the values of a successful leader and the ideology around this that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the principles are all that really counts. In actual fact, how leadership is executed in a practical sense and on a day-to-day basis has far more impact on an organisation and it’s employees than the often rather abstract ethos around ideal leadership. No one is saying that you can’t combine the two roles, but it would be a mistake to assume that one automatically encompasses the other. In fact, in a very practical sense, idealists don’t make good leaders. Working in the shadow of one who is entirely driven by vision and unheeding of the practicalities of operational reality quickly degenerates into an extremely linear thought process that reinforces narrow thinking. Ironically, purely idealist leadership is the place that creativity goes to die. To a practical leader means to be tolerant of failings – in processes, ideas, people and even yourself – knowing that true innovation cannot occur without a few mistakes cropping up along the way. It means accepting that the role of a leader is more about empowering others to find their own inspiration than being that inspiration yourself. It means understanding that responsibility is a group dynamic involving each member thinking for the collective good. It means becoming a conductor, rather than a monument. In short, it may well be a sea change in everything you thought you knew about great leadership.
Lead With Compassion
Far from the realm of ideals, actual human emotion has far more to do with being a practical leader than you might have imagined. Being able to make a connection with someone can be invaluable in terms of inspiring loyalty. Compassion can help us in business by enabling us to look past the mistake or the problem and understand the reasons why it occurred. In a results-driven organisation, that’s the metric you should focus on and not the person.
Get To The Root Of Underperformance
Managing poor performance is part and parcel of being a leader – but try not to write people off and instead look at the motivators behind the issues. It either comes down to a training issue or a motivational one. Training issues are easier to fix – for example, if your company has suffered a data breach then you may just need to read more about computer security and data hygiene and ensure that your teams are fully briefed. It’s an issue of wills, you have a bit of a harder job. You need to understand what is causing a lack of motivation – this can be anything from not seeing how their work contributes to the wider aims of the organisation to a blocker in their personal life. Finding out can make all the difference between a team that’s norming and one that’s storming, so make it your business to gain that personal insight.
Start With Trust
And how do you get people to open up to you? It all comes down to some pretty basic things: respect and trust. Always start by assuming positive intentions until categorically proven otherwise. Very few people want to make a mistake or perform badly. Learning to delegate and trust people to do the jobs you’ve hired them for can be extremely difficult, especially for an entrepreneur who has grown a company through their own sheer hard work, but it’s absolutely essential. See it as your job to give your team the tools and support to do the best possible job. Move away from viewing yourself as the head of something and more as the skin – there to keep everything together and deflect the worst of external aggressors.
Make It Democratic
Many idealist leaders are scared of stepping away from dictating a grand vision and instead crowdsourcing ideas and goals from their team. But this process of systematising team contribution means that everyone buys into to the direction the team is going, and also gives the organisation the considerable benefit of diverse insight into their stickier problems. Handing parts of the decision-making process over can feel very out of the comfort zone of traditional leadership, but allowing people to constructively challenge the way things are is the hallmark of an extremely high performing business. Set structures in place that actively encourage people to contribute in their own unique way and the whole business – and you as a leader – will benefit. You just need to reposition your role more as a facilitator and the whole process will follow.