You may have a great singing voice. That’s great! However, sometimes when you sing if you go out of tune, your singing talent is wasted because there will be no audience.
Being a great leader is similar to being a great singer: you can have all the skills required for leading effectively but your colleagues can choose not to follow you when they think that you’re not the right person. In other words, you appear to be out of tune with yourself.
The problem is that it is difficult to recognise when you’re out of tune. Sometimes you just don’t feel right about whether or how you need to address a situation. Or when you’re aware that you could have handled a situation better, you continue to feel uneasy or uncomfortable about what you should have done or indeed, did do.
Compose the tune
There is only one way to come out of this issue. You have to compose your own leadership tune. You should remember (as we discussed earlier) that your values are the foundation of your approach to leadership because they have a significant bearing on what you do and how you behave, as well as how you evaluate people and events.
Investing time in clarifying your values is equivalent to you composing your leadership tune when you are clear about your values and behave in ways that are in accord with them and enables you to be ‘in tune’ with yourself. When you’re ‘on song’ in this way, your followers recognise that you’re being authentic: they see that you know your core values and are behaving in ways that fit with them.
Being an authentic leader requires you to show a genuine interest in other people, as well as being true to yourself by behaving in accord with your values. You can’t be authentic by focusing on what’s important to you while ignoring the needs and values of other people.
What should you do?
I. Take a few minutes to answer the few questions listed below. Identify the ones that seem most relevant or helpful in clarifying what’s important to you and copy them into a notebook, leaving plenty of space to answer each question.
2. Try to come up with and note down any other questions that you think may help you to identify what’s important to you.
3. Start to answer your questions when you’ve created a sufficient number. As a guideline, form a list of between four and seven useful questions: any less than four may cause you to be less thorough than you should be, whereas more than seven can prompt you to start digressing into more general philosophising about your life!
Take as much time as you need to answer your questions: the quality of your thinking in answering each question is much more important than answering it quickly. Leaving the questions partially answered for a time is fine: come back to them when you may want to add to or refine your answers after you’ve reflected on them.
4. Pick out recurring or significant words, phrases and themes that run through your answers.
5. Use these words, phrases and/or themes to produce a list of your values. In addition, note one or two behaviours that demonstrate that you’re behaving in accord with each of those values.
Here are few model questions.
What’s important to me about being a leader and how I lead people? What are my values, especially my core values? What’s important to me about how I’m treated and how I treat others? What’s important to me about how people work together? What work topics and issues generate most energy, positive or negative, within me? What positive impact or difference do I want to make to my organisation and/or my work team? What would need to happen at work for me to have a real sense of fulfilment?
You may also find yourself assuming that other people place the same importance or equally value on what’s important to you or presuming that the way you prefer to work is the same for them. You may be right but you may also be wrong!
If significant differences exist in the values or the preferred ways of working among the people in your organisation, including you, you’re likely to experience problems in leading them and how well they work together. You can find out how to involve the members of your team in clarifying and agreeing the values and behaviours to guide how they work together.
Leaders are people without voices, meaning leaders are role models: the people who report to you take notice of and copy what you do. Modelling the behaviours that you want other people to adopt is a powerful way of communicating the values and behaviours that are important to you.
Communicating your values
Whenever possible, use face-to-face communication to convey your values and the associated behaviours to the people who report to and work with you.
You’re trying to achieve more than just informing your work colleagues about your values: you have to influence them so they appreciate that your values are important to you and how your team works. Face-to-face communication is a more effective means of influencing people than other forms of communication because you can see the effect you’re having on your colleagues and act accordingly, such as by expanding or clarifying certain points.
You’re using both sight and hearing and research indicates that people take in more information through their sight than through just hearing the words.
You can engage your colleagues more effectively in exploring the values and behaviours that you’re sharing with them and what they mean in practise for how you all work together.
Face-to-face communications in which you sit around the same table as your colleagues is best but having a video conference may be necessary if some of your staff are in different locations or even on different continents. Get close to the camera when using video conferencing so that people can clearly see you, especially your face.
Be careful to avoid promoting your values over the values of people you work with especially when the national culture of some of your work colleagues is significantly different to your own national culture.
To help you harmonise your values with a work colleague, perhaps a team member, peer or even your boss, have a meaningful dialogue with him as follows:
I. Approach your colleague and suggest that you explore what’s important to you both in how you work together, with the aim of better understanding each other and improving workflow and productivity.
2. Agree to produce separately a list of the values that are important to each of you and note what you expect of each other in working together. You may need to explain the importance of values by drawing on the content of the earlier section ‘Questioning what underpins your leadership’.
3. Complete your lists before your next meeting.
4. Take turns during your next meeting to share each of the values and the expectations that you have of each other. Look for similarities to reinforce how close you are to each other already and explore differences and the ways they can be reconciled in order to agree how you’re going to work more effectively together in the future. Agree when and how you plan jointly to review how well you put the agreements into practice.
5. Conduct reviews using facts and evidence of how you’ve worked together - particularly emphasising successes - to build progressively on good practice and strengthen your relationship. Where evidence emerges that you could work better together, jointly suggest and agree how you’re going to make improvements.
You need to create a set of team values with your staff if you wish to harmonise your values with everyone in your team. We will learn later how to do it.
(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired corporate director counting three decades of senior management experience. He is now an independent consultant and a freelance journalist. He may be contacted on email@example.com)