Excellent employees can make really poor leaders. A survey I commissioned last year found that 40 per cent of British workers left their job because of their boss’ lack of leadership skills. That’s a frightening statistic. So how can you avoid the five basic traps of being a poor leader?
We can spot inauthenticity a mile off. We don’t want leaders who sound like slick salesmen; their charm is paper-thin and they don’t smile with their eyes.
This is especially true for Generations Y and Z, who are demanding a different kind of leadership. For them, the old style of “command and control” is unacceptable.
To build authenticity we want our leaders to believe what they’re saying. That starts with using their own voice, and avoiding the over-projected sound of a stern teacher.
To speak with your most authentic voice, sit upright in a chair and put your hands together as if in a prayer position. Make sure your forearms are parallel to the ground. Gently breathe in and push your hands together as hard as you can for three seconds. As you push, squeeze the air from your lungs and out through your mouth. This releases tension in the upper chest and you should find your voice is more relaxed and natural.
However, you don’t want to avoid every teacher-like trait. The ones that you liked best at school probably had clear and consistent boundaries. It’s difficult for a child if a teacher is strict one day and lenient the next. As adults too, we like to know where we stand with someone, every day.
Blowing hot and cold might keep a team on their toes, but it doesn’t make them feel secure. We want leaders to have a clear personal brand so we know what sort of reaction we’re going to get. We’ll always feel unsafe and insecure around inconsistent, changeable leaders.
Sound puffed-up and pompous at your own peril. If you big yourself up, your staff will be willing you to come a cropper. Often people can end up sounding self-important at work because their nerves make them wear a public mask of formality. But as a leader you want your colleagues to see the real you.
Negative leaders always find a reason not to accept your idea, implement your plan, or even hear you out, and will block energy and enthusiasm at any suggestion unless it’s their own. Disagreement leads to the collision of ideas, which is fundamental to a business’s success. Leaders should get in the habit of rolling up their sleeves and saying: what can I do to help? It’s best to leave negativity to the risk and compliance department.
It’s not just when a leader is on a platform that they need to be inspiring. It’s amazing what a smile in the lift or a cheerful word by the coffee machine can do for morale.
Of course, the easiest way to be an inspiring leader is to value people. Counter-intuitively, charisma is all about making other people feel special. It comes from the Greek meaning “favour freely given” or “gift of grace”. It’s not about you; it’s about other people.
To project charisma and gravitas, stand and wait two seconds before you speak. It will look like you are comfortable and lend you an impressive natural authority.