The true mojo of leadership

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I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work in several high achieving environments where I was managed by some truly inspirational leaders and also I’ve had the luxury of managing teams consisting of committed and driven individuals myself. Some of these organizations have been true leaders in terms of innovation, client focus and execution while others have faced the challenge of a massive internal transformation and where processes were broken, vision was unclear and industry competition was fierce.

All of those environments were inspirational in their own way. And all of them taught me a great lesson about team work, innovation but foremost the importance of leadership and its impact on a successful business. That’s right. Success is often a term we speak of but we should talk more about what brings success. Success is an outcome of hard dedicated work, clear focus and vision.

Success must be managed.

I’ve decided to share, as my first post on LinkedIn’s own publishing tool, of my view on what successful leadership is all about. What I think make a modern leader stand apart from the ordinary one.

Here goes.


Vision, Aspiration & Purpose

Everything starts here. A leader must state his vision (cl)early. What does he want to achieve? Where should the team be going? What are the objectives and when should they be in place? What is regarded as important tools, behaviors and attitudes internally in order to reach that said vision? All of this has to be in place. Many of you will agree and say that this is definitely in place at your employer and in your team. That makes me happy. What is most often lacking however is the aspiration. I argue that what make some leaders stand apart from the masses as exceptional leaders are those who have aspirations greater than just “successfully reaching targets set by the management team”. A leader who truly gets commitment and who can make a department the shining star of an organization, is the one who have made his team aspire not only to reach their targets but to grow as professionals and individuals and to constantly challenge themselves into raising the bar even further.

Also the purpose of why you are here and why you are doing what you are doing is vital. Commitment can often be connected to ambitious plans and an inspirational leader but aspiration to grow and walk the extra mile is often connected to the purpose. Never underestimate that.


Clarity & Focus

When a leader has managed to put the vision and purpose in place, he’ll see that his team is starting to work harder, becoming more proud of their work and their results. The perhaps toughest part of leadership lies in the Focus part. It is to coach and guide the enormous energy of each and every team player into doing the right things and doing those things right. Old school terms: Effectiveness and Efficiency.

Very often a team of smart high achieving individuals see a lot of opportunities and start to allocate time, energy and drive into solving things which is outside their responsibility area. Most often it is a good thing that an employee gets involved into innovative solutions helping the company grow. I also argue that it sometimes is dangerous to stop your team from doing those things as such tasks often provide them with energy for other tasks and make them feel meaning about their work. Focus is however important. Often many innovative initiatives are not executed in the organization because of the simple fact that they did not match up with other existing processes in place with the organization. While the team members of the innovation still have learnt a lot from taking part of the project, the organization does not get the full juice of the effort. This in itself could destroy motivation for that professional.

Therefore, I argue a managers hardest ever task is to partly let go, to empower his team to reach their targets and outperform them by making them feel free of how to taken on their tasks. But direction and supervision is vital. The leader who make his team feel they are part of something larger, who make them feel free and empowered and yet manage to direct their energy into the projects and processes in line with the team targets is also the leader who in the end will win most commitment from his team. The leader who wins the most trust is the leader who helps his team to reach their goals. That’s why supervision is important.


Trust & Personification

Succeeding with the tough task of clarity & focus leads to gaining a huge trust from your team. The trust that they believe in your vision, that they believe in you knowing what is vital and why some targets are more important than others. Trust is a major thing. If you think about it. Each and everyone in your team could be somewhere else and they will be soon if they don’t trust you. You as leader live the employer brand of your organization and you have to live up to the values every day in operations. When it comes down to it, earning trust is one of the most important things. People might tell you in meetings that they understand you and that they agree but if they leave the meeting and you’ll never hear from them again or you don’t see an action in line with what you’ve discussed: It’s because they don’t trust you enough. There might be a thousand different explanations but most of that is bullshit. There is one truth however: If someone clearly trust you and believe in what you say, they will do what they’ve promised you. And they will tell you when it’s done. That’s the truth.

The same way you have to trust your team as a leader. If you know that they have bought into the vision and that they have the right focus you have to stand straight in the back and trust that they will do whatever they said they would do. That trust will most often reward itself by things being done. Sometimes you have an individual in the team who has the wrong skill set, the wrong attitude, behaviors or even lack the ambition otherwise shared by the company. When that happens is a more complex story but easily told: That situations must be dealt with in such a way that you get such an individual in place by either transforming the current employee into that person or making a change in your team. But that said, when you don’t have someone like that in your team there is no reason to not show trust.

Also understanding the personal needs of everyone in your team is important. Some have a desire to do certain things or a personal ambition to grow in a certain direction. Listen to those personal needs and work hard for each and everyone in your team to reach their personal goals. And when you make a promise, keep it! Broken promises break trust. Directly!

I don’t understand micro management. It is not like I have time to do everyone’s job for them anyhow. If I don’t trust my team, I am doing something wrong.” /Manager in Retail industry, UK.

I think the quote above say what I try to say. If you feel you can’t trust your team, you’re doing something wrong. What sets apart a grand leader from the ordinary one, is the leader who provides his team with the energy, vision, direction and inspirational freedom of how to reach targets. A leader who allocates time onto saying “how things are done here” and who disrupts his teams enigmatic flow by small scale things could very well be managing a successful business but never be remembered for how he transformed the world into something better.

Key Take Away: Micro management most often hurts the self confidence of your team. They will stop doing things because they know you will want to change it in the end. Most importantly, they will stop taking decisions and come ask you about every littlest detail. When you’re gone, the business literally stops. That makes the P/L live and die with you. You tell me, is that good? Let’s bury the 1900’s and the micro management with it.

Understand every team members personal goal and desire. Work hard to help them achieve those and always honor your promises.


Honesty, Respect & Rewards

Nothing says “I respect you” as the honest feedback or conversation. A lie or a half-truth can really break someones self confidence. Nothing is more confusing and saddening as a leader who contradicts himself, saying one thing one week and another the week after. Nothing is as inefficient and improper as a leader who puts his team into awkward situations toward his colleagues such as yelling and pointing fingers towards someone in a meeting. (Yes these things happen still today. Shocking!) Nothing is a bigger turn-off than a leader who is more interested in his own personal success and career than his teams. A leader who cares more about being mentioned in the newspaper as a smart guy and who puts his name above everyone else’s on the Powerpoint decks won’t inspire his team to success. It’s just how it is.

“I respect you” means “I care for you”. “I respect you” also means “I want you to be successful and I am doing this FOR you, not against you.” Whenever something has to be said I usually recommend being direct, honest and constructive about it. Clarity of how the situation is and why it is as it is, your personal view upon it and then a constructive way forward with clear call to actions who both can agree with are vital. In the long term a true leader has to be consequent about these things and not treat team members differently. The same rules must apply to everyone. Nothing can kill team spirit like favoritism.

Rewards are important. Nothing says: “I see you” and “I appreciate what you are doing” like a reward. My experience of rewards and when they work best is when mentioned public with a clear reason as to why its given. Some believe rewards are a good way to say what you want people to do more of and while that is true I argue that the most important part is that the reward shows what you want people to do less of. Not everyone will ever win a reward but telling the story of how someone won a reward is best done by telling a transformation of focus and excellence and of what activities are discarded. The last part perhaps the most important for each and everyone in the organization.


Embody your ideasĀ 

Last but not least: “Live like you preach”. You have to embody everything you say. As said about children: “Children do not do as you say, they do as you do.” I believe 100% in this statement and even if your team members are far from children the same philosophy should be applied everywhere. Nothing says: “I am a phony” as much as the one who contradicts his own philosophy in action. As a leader, it always starts with you.

Great leaders can come from everywhere. You might be our generations next big leader. It is all about loving to manage, loving to help people shine and excel. If the only thing you love is your wallet or your face in the newspaper, there is a risk you’ll never be a grand leader. Being a leader and a manager is not the same thing.

Who do you want to be?

Great success!

/Daniel Sonesson