I recently had the pleasure to spend time with a group of junior managers at a London based hospital. This was a group of energetic, and talented individuals who were just starting their first leadership role or about to take the next step in their career. It was insightful to watch them working together, solving the tasks and problems thrown at them during their training course and hear the variety of great, out of the box, solutions they came up with.
I had been asked to provide insights on leadership to the group of aspiring leaders with the aim of providing them with ideas that they could take away and put into practice. I wanted to give this group the benefit of my leadership experience, but it has been awhile since I was at this critical transition point in my career i.e. stepping away from being solely judged on my own performance to being judged on my team’s overall delivery. It therefore really made me think about what to say to them and where to start.
Leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organisation
It was clear to me that the group were already working incredibly hard and long hours in a tough and demanding environment where front line support for the patients was paramount.
My overarching message to the team was that…
Good leadership is about being effective at motivating and influencing people
Being an effective leader isn’t about how you personally must work harder and longer hours. It is about working more effectively so that your team can achieve their potential. With that in mind I reduced a very long list of potential leadership advice down to a top 5 list of leadership tips for aspiring leaders. This is just a shortlist, but I wanted to give them ideas which could be immediately impactful and entirely consistent with my leadership style, a leadership style that has proven to be a differentiator during my career.
1. Improve your public speaking
The easiest way to enhance your influence and impact is to improve your public speaking skills. Generally, people are mediocre speaking in front of groups and yet it is a skill that is relatively easy to improve upon and an investment in yourself that you will be able to leverage many times over throughout your career.
Following on from saying that everyone should get better at speaking I now want to tell you to get better at listening! Everyone wants to speak and be heard yet listening is just as critical. We aren’t taught how to listen and in the modern business world, to stand out, we need to make an impact which often takes the form of speaking up and passionately making a point in a meeting.
Listening is an underrated leadership skill, rather than interrupting your teams, let them finish and once they have finished speaking ask “…what else?” Ask incisive questions and be a good listener and you will be surprised at the breadth of ideas and solutions that your teams generate when given the opportunity to do so.
3. Invest time
Typically, aspiring leaders may only directly manage a small team but need to have an outsized influence on a much broader set of people. Your virtual team (those who don’t directly work for you) will have their own issues, their own priorities and their own challenging bosses and stakeholders. Invest time in the people that your team interacts with: explain why you are asking them to do something for you, ask their opinion, share your conclusions and give credit to them when delivering to your stakeholders.
People appreciate being treated as an equal, as a partner, and you are helping them get better and improve themselves because they are working with you. Over time you will find that your calls will get picked up, responses to your emails will be faster and your new partners will find the time to help you even when they are busy.
4. Be fans of your team
We spend an inordinate amount of time with our teams so get to know them and show your team that you care about them. Find out what motivates them, their family life, their interests and hobbies, what sports teams they follow, their goals and aspirations and, very importantly, problems and issues that they have both inside and outside of work. People will be far more willing to go the extra mile for you if they know you care about them.
Give your team compliments in front of people, make sure your boss knows the good work that they do for you and that you wouldn’t be able to deliver the high-quality work if it wasn’t for people like them. Surprise your teams with unexpected gifts for exceptional work, you will be amazed at what a small gift will achieve in terms of positive morale and the general well-being of the team. They will then work extra hard as they know you value their contributions.
5. Ask for help
Ask for advice when facing new situations, new challenges or taking on new roles. No one expects you to have all the answers when stepping up and into a new role so take the opportunity to ask others. Ask colleagues, peers who may be doing a similar role, the people in the team and clients of your team etc. There are many benefits from doing so, including:
· You will very likely hear good points that you can decide to act upon
· It flatters the individuals that you ask as you are treating them as an equal
· You expand your network
This exercise has got me thinking about other top advice we should be giving our aspiring leaders as they progress through their careers and start to develop their own leadership mindset. What would your top 5 leadership tips be for people at this important stage of their career?