What makes a good leader?

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I’ve worked in Salford’s public sector services since 2004 and apart from a short 9-month stint in the private sector, that’s a solid 13 years of working in one of the UK’s most diverse and unique cities. I’ve worked with and for a lot of managers and leaders and learnt some really valuable lessons along the way, some easy ones, some not so much.

Now, as a leader myself I want to ensure I harness all this learning. One area in particular really stands out to me; hearing people’s voices. Sounds simple but in reality, it’s a challenge.

That ‘light bulb’ moment for me, happened quite early on in my career as a Business Management Officer at Salford City Council. I was tasked with getting senior managers to simply sign a form. All the forms needed signing by a specific date and returned to an external address, if not there could be financial implications. So off I set on my (simple) mission, all was running smoothly until I was left with one unsigned form. I’d verbally asked this person to sign the form, left it with him, followed it up, emailed and asked his team to remind him. I tried every method I could think wondering ‘maybe I haven’t explained properly’ ‘maybe I need to be clearer’ but all my attempts were to no avail. On my final chase, stood by his desk asking him politely to sign a form, without looking up from his screen he said “what’s important to you Lauren, is not important to me”.

That was the lightbulb moment when I realised not everyone listens, not everyone cares what you have to say, nor will everyone understand what you say! I didn’t bother asking him again, when his senior manager chased the form he promptly signed there and then. This has stuck with me throughout my career and it’s rare now that I waste my breath on people that don’t appear to be listening and I try not to be that type of leader. I always take the time to listen to what people have to say and I always take time to be present.

I’ve been to many an event where the topic of effective leadership is high priority; listen, hear what your colleagues have to say we’re told…but I’m sat in a room being talked at not to. Actually, hearing is two-way, the art of really hearing what people are telling you is also listening and being visible.

I recently read a statistic that 50% of employees don’t trust those in leadership roles. That’s a worrying statistic but unsurprising. Why? Because these people will have also had experiences just like the above, they’ve sat in a meeting where the leader in the room was clearly not hearing them, they’ve experienced ‘tokenistic’ listening efforts. Like a TripAdvisor review, the bad sticks with you, not the good!

Here’s what I think makes a good leader…

Don’t…

  1. Be indecisive, there’s a distinct difference between a necessary delay in a decision and one based on uncertainty or unorganised environments
  2. Have an ‘open door’ policy. As managers, we don’t need a policy for your staff to know they can speak to us
  3. Be tokenistic. Practice what you preach.
  4. Forgot what you’ve promised! Nothing destroys respect more than a persistent lack of follow through on tasks
  5. Micromanage

Do…

  1. Earn the trust and respect of team members through your actions
  2. Forward think, anticipate and plan for change
  3. Maintain a quiet confidence
  4. Make tough decisions and lead with certainty
  5. Hear, listen and ask

Allowing a culture of ‘us and them’ to grow only leads to a larger issue of fear, making yourself accessible and approachable is key. Showing your colleagues you really listen and really hear is infectious and it’s these kinds of skills I want my own team to go on and replicate.

As leaders, we should continually work to develop these qualities and create a culture of equal balance to really be great leaders.

What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Nice blog Lauren and as someone who has worked with you I’m really glad to be able to say you genuinely do this rather than being one of those people who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Having a manager who genuinely listens makes a massive difference to how an employee feels, responds and then behaves moving forward. Many managers could get a lot more from their teams by simply listening and responding to what is said, rather than just waiting for a break in the conversation in order to get what they need sorting over.