Remembering how to lead

Guest blogger:

Garry HearnGarry HearnOUBS MBA Alumnus; AD Training Transformation at Defence College of technical training;  A Fellow of both CIPD and CMI, in December 2012, he was awarded an OBE in recognition of training and education activities at the Defence School of CIS.

‘A general is just as good or just as bad as the troops under his command make him.’ – General Douglas MacArthur

ThinkstockIn this era of intense competition I would offer that instead of falling for the temptation of studying performance indicators and balance sheets, leaders need to take stock and remind themselves of how to lead. It is important to return to the basics, encapsulated by General McArthur, and remember that it is people who achieve outcomes and that they are the key to winning the battles in an economic downturn.

Having recently completed an assignment leading a large public sector organisation through a difficult few years, I decided to try to identify the key lessons I had learnt, some of which are captured below. I have no doubt that these are old lessons but I think they are worth remembering.

The lessons focus on valuing people, however, I have added two additional points that I feel may resonate with those in leadership positions. It would be arrogant to suggest this is a panacea for all leaders, or that my views are right, but I hope that perhaps they will stimulate some discussion and/or help someone somewhere.

Turn it upside down. Turn the traditional organisational diagram upside down. It recognises that the only reason the organisation exists is because of those who are delivering the operational output. And, that the head of the organisation is there to support them!

Have a vision. Publicise what you are trying to achieve, it gives people a purpose. Do so in a manner that has value to them, they are able to visualise it, and empower them to get on with it.

Be passionate. If you as the leader of the organisation are not passionate about what you are doing how on earth can you expect your team and workforce to drive change and results?

Be available. If someone wants to see you, make the time because they will have thought long and hard about making the request. You will not get inundated with requests for appointments but every person you do meet will go back to the workforce more positively disposed than prior to the meeting, even if the message they get isn’t what they want.

Be authentic. Be yourself, don’t try to be anyone else, be consistent, fair, and above all else honest, and your team will be more inclined to go with you, even if they don’t agree with the intent.

‘If you don’t buy into the man, you will never buy into his message.’ – Anonymous

Say ‘thank you’. Every time you hear of an achievement, say ‘thank you’. A simple ‘thank you’ from you as the head of the organisation will have an exponential impact. I am convinced that saying ‘thank you’ is the strongest term in the leadership lexicon.

Encourage questioning. Encourage everyone to question decisions that appear illogical. If people don’t know why they are doing something they tend not to do it, or don’t do it well.

Face up to problems. Big issues must be addressed. Don’t ignore or delay them, stand out front and tell the organisation what is going on. Most people simply want to know what is going on so that they can make informed decisions.

Get rid of blame. People don’t generally set out to do something wrong and if it goes wrong it is likely to be because the person involved has not been given the right information or training. Both of these elements are ultimately the responsibility of the leader of the organisation!

Embrace diversity. Diversity brings different ideas, perspectives and richness to decision making, vitally important when the current model may not be working. Openly state your support for diversity and the benefits it brings to the organisation.

Get a mentor. Regardless of how good you are I would offer that there will be times when you question what you are doing. Find someone you respect and ask them to be an informal mentor. And, then remember if you find having a mentor is helpful don’t forget to offer to mentor your subordinates as they move off into new appointments and challenges.

Create the capacity to think. You may not have the time to think ahead but organisations need to think ahead if they are to stay ahead. Consider who may be able to think on your behalf and give them the responsibility to deliver and constantly improve upon the vision.

I recognise there are many other facets to leadership and management, and leaders will still have to make harsh decisions, but I would suggest that if we re-focus on our people we will be pleasantly surprised at what they will achieve and that fewer harsh decisions may be needed.

‘Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves it’s amazing what they can achieve’ – Sam Walton

This is an abridged version of Leadership on the Cheap, which can be found at

4 thoughts on “Remembering how to lead

  1. Nice post.
    Just because – as Garry cheerfully admits – these may be ‘old lessons’, doesn’t mean they don’t bear repeating.

    A linking motif is arguably revealed by a word that is missing from the piece : ego. Not that leaders don’t need one, after all insecurity is hardly an asset to the would-be leader, but in most cases it should be much less to the fore than is frequently the case.

  2. Thank you for sharing your learning. It’s very valuable.

    One area I would like to question is ‘be authentic’. I may not be understanding the term authenticity in the same way as you (I think it’s one of those words that means different things to different people). The problem that I have with authenticity is that for some people it gets interpreted as a consistency of behaviour or leadership style. This can then lead to rigidity when what’s required in today’s rapidly changing world is agility. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.


  3. I’d be interested to hear Garry’s reply, but would nevertheless offer my fourpenn’orth by way of a political analogy.

    I interpret authenticity as tied up with values. Politicians tend to offer policies, which will typically have to change as events unfold. If I’m voting for someone to make decisions on my behalf, I’d rather they declared their values (which I’d like to think changed more slowly) as a better indicator of how they will act.

  4. I tend to agree with David in that it is about having values that are ethically based, even if not universally agreed, thereby hopefully creating a sense of trust in your leadership. In short people see you as being fair and honest.
    I can see the concern over the potential for dogmatic leadership traits to develop however I would offer that by being open minded, creating a questioning and no blame culture should offset the risk.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: