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10 Critical Factors Essential for Leadership Success

I began work recently on preparing a leadership programme and set myself the challenge of asking this question – ‘If I were to identify my top 10 factors essential for leadership success, what would they be?’ This blog is my answer to that question:

1. Lead yourself  
2. Hone Your People Skills
3. Earn and Cultivate Trust
4. Articulate an Inspiring Vision
5. Define Your Values and Live by Them
6. Accept Your Current Reality
7. Commit to Informed Action
8. Let Others Shine
9. Be a facilitative leader
10. Find and Hold Your Nerve

1. Lead yourself  

Any aspiring leader aiming to lead well, must accept the first principle of effective leadership – to successfully lead others, ‘I must first of all successfully lead myself!’ 

People don’t follow those who cannot master themselves. The art of self-mastery is grounded in awareness. Being aware of others and oneself is fundamental to effective leadership. The self is an essential source of energy and information as we interact with our environment. Awareness and mastery of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors evoked as we engage with the world around us is critical if we are to access drivers for action and/or change. 

The unaware leader sleepwalks blindly in ignorance and unconsciously follows the latest leadership fad. The leader, who aims to master him/herself, is mindful, moment-to-moment, of what the self has to teach – like trusting that deep sense of knowing that something just isn’t right.  

It’s these consciously aware instances where we discover our powerful drivers - inspiration, imaginative ideas, disgust, creative solutions, regret, satisfaction, anger, possibility and courage… A truly intimate connection with oneself gives access to our greatest leadership asset – our self. In essence: know yourself, be yourself and master yourself.

2. Hone Your People Skills

If self is the greatest asset to a leader, then others are the second. Judgementally, people skills are sometimes referred to as soft skills but when you ask followers, they will readily tell you leaders don’t spend enough time communicating and listening – it’s not as easy as it sounds! To hone your people skills – delight in dialogue. Create opportunities for meaningful conversation. Ask people what really matters to them and then afford them the opportunity of genuinely being heard. In listening genuinely to others, you have the opportunity to learn from their wisdom.  

3. Earn and Cultivate Trust

Trust is an essential quality necessary for successful leadership and organisational sustainability. Any leader who has mastery of self and engages in open, honest and transparent dialogue is more likely to earn and inspire trust. Be intolerant of a culture of blame – it breeds distrust as people watch their own backs. Instead, promote a learning culture driven by curiosity rather than judgement.

4. Articulate an Inspiring Vision

Every leader needs a personally defined vision that acts as their leadership compass.  Any vision needs to inspire others to act.  This is made possible when the leaders vision aligns with key beliefs held by those willing to follow. Followers don’t follow because a leader suggests they might, they follow because they understand and share the beliefs articulated by the leader who paints a picture of what’s possible when we collaborate together for what we believe. It’s the difference between simply selling a product and upholding a belief. As a leader - in what do you believe? 

Personally, I believe my mission is to be in relationship and by this I mean consciously working at a quality of contact with people that involves transparency, intimacy, courage and the willingness to change and be changed.  In a world where we can all do this, I believe we will enjoy collective inspiration, respect, compassion and the fruits of being able to do more, better together.

5. Define Your Values and Live by Them

Deciding on a set of values and living these credibly is vital since followers cannot abide hypocrisy.  This means committing wholeheartedly to being and doing these values and admitting transparently when we fail to achieve our aspirations.  Followers are more tolerant of our humanity and humility than they are our deceit.  

6. Accept Your Current Reality

Having an accurate appraisal of the current reality and accepting ‘what is’ as opposed to wishing for what ‘could’ or ‘should’ be, will help us in our leadership success.  Having a vision is necessary to steer our efforts however, if we fail to accept the current reality (however uncomfortable it may be) we will never arrive at our desired goals.  If I want an organisation that’s innovative, flexible and customer focused I must fully embrace the reality that currently, we are unimaginative, stuck in our ways and self-serving.  Focusing only on where we want to get to without honouring ‘what is’, will only keep us stuck where we are. Paradoxically, it’s only when we are more what we are - through acceptance of the current now - that we can transcend this to become our better future.

7. Commit to Informed Action

All leaders need to manage the inspiration/perspiration polarity. Inspired thinking without follow-through is simply dreaming. Doing the same stuff over and over again without fresh imaginative thinking is to be a slave to habit. With a mindful adoption of vision and values and an accurate appraisal of your current reality, it’s time to take informed action with greater confidence.  Have a propensity toward action and solutions rather than analysing problems – a well-understood problem, in and of itself, is not a game changer. Beware the paralysis of analysis!

8. Let Others Shine

Accept this reality – in a world of greater expertise, there will be many more people who will do stuff far better than you. A leader, who wants to be the best at everything, is destined to fail. Get comfortable, even get excited when others around you excel. Your leadership success is not measured by how much you shine but by how possible you make it for those around you to shine.

9. Be a facilitative leader

Traditional leadership and management models adopt a ‘telling’ stance where those in power act as all-knowing experts who direct through command and control. To be facilitative in your leadership style is to adopt an ‘asking’ approach.  Such an approach is driven by curiosity and genuine interest in learning from people as well as ensuring processes are in place to support a learning organisational culture. To be facilitative in leadership ensures we maximise participation and is fixed on the belief that we can achieve greater outcomes together.

10. Find and Hold Your Nerve

I believe that at the heart of poor leadership is a failure of nerve. Finding the guts to differentiate yourself from the instinctive herd mentality takes genuine courage. When you work for change, you will inevitably evoke resistance and sabotage. A failure of nerve will result in the leader giving in to the status quo or settling for some disappointing compromise for fear of evoking the dislike or disapproval of others. To hold your nerve is to do the right thing with the understanding that resistance, rather than some obstacle to overcome, is really a systemic phenomenon that indicates success. Successful leaders don’t take resistance personally and instead recognise it as a sign that those resisting are not the enemy but instead need some form of support before change can be embraced. Successful leaders accept change is a process to walk people through and is not something done to them.  

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Paul Cummings

Paul Cummings

Certified Professional Facilitator, Coach and Trainer Interested in exploring this further? Feel free to make contact or comment below.
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1 Comment(s)

Leadership: 10 Critical factors for Success
I read your posting with interest and was greatly struck by the ethos underlying your statements. You are clearly aware of what gives meaning to your life. I see this as central to what you are saying about leadership. If I might be so bold as to hold my ‘nerve’ as you put it, I would suggest placing ‘Define Your Values and Live by Them’ as first in your list. Values are underpinned by beliefs about self, others and the world. I liked your description of how ‘the unaware leader sleepwalks blindly’. It seems to me that many people I come across in this world are largely unconscious of what they value and believe in. It follows that when someone is aware of their values and beliefs, they frequently attract others who are less sure and are looking for a leader to follow. For me, all the other factors in your list lead on from defining and living by your values. If values are in place and are based on something good and life-giving, you will be able to lead your own life, earn & cultivate trust, articulate an inspiring vision, etc. It’s all good stuff – challenging, inspiring and work in progress. Thank you.

Haring / 29-May-2013 04:47 PM

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