Incredible leadership—and how to achieve it
Wednesday, 17 June 2015
As the FIFA scandal swirls into
the firepool at Nkandla, and the Auditor-General reports another year of
astronomical "fruitless and wasteful expenditure” by the country’s
municipalities, the value of strong and ethical leadership becomes yet clearer.
In business, too, it’s well established that the quality of an organisation’s
leadership will affect its performance dramatically.
In other words, Alex Granger’s
topic of Incredible Leadership was well-chosen for the lunch that followed the
IoDSA’s recent AGM.
Granger opened his presentation
by observing that incredible leadership had to be credible. Leaders cannot just
mouth fine words and sentiments—they have to embody them. Employees (and people
generally) want to trust their leaders, but that trust has to be earned.
Granger outlined some of the
warning signs that an organisation’s leadership might be falling short of
incredible. Among them he listed fear of facing up the challenges involved in
fulfilling the organisation’s mandate, a lack of attention to detail, tension
in the organisation, and a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive.
He went on to identify some of
the characteristics of the incredible leader. The first is that he or she
should be "flawsome”; that is, both "awesome” and "flawed”. "Leaders need to be
less ‘super’ and more ‘human’,” Granger said, noting that imperfect leaders
However, they do need to be
consistent: what they say and what they do have to align. And while they need
to recognise that they can’t (and shouldn’t) tell everybody everything, what
they communicate should be truthful.
Another important leadership
quality is the ability (and willingness) to build personal relationships. This
is the only way to build trustworthiness, and we can see all around us the lack
of care and empathy shown by leaders, from the ward councillor living in a
gated community to the union leader insulated from his constituents by a
phalanx of guards.
"If people are looked after
well, they will look after the organisation,” Granger said. "Never forget the
human element, and don’t treat your employees as assets to be maximised. They
The benefits of incredible
leadership are many. They include improved employee engagement, morale and
retention—and thus better productivity. Organisations with incredible leaders
find it easy to attract top talent, and they show high levels of innovation and
creativity. Not surprisingly, they deliver higher levels of service to the most
important people of all—the customers.
"Ask yourself what kind of
legacy you want to leave, and start being that kind of leader now,” Granger
of an incredible leader
Be mindful. Pay particular attention to what’s going on without
trying to come to conclusions or think of other things.
Serve others. Rather
than becoming bosses, leaders should concentrate on empowering those whom they
lead with the right tools they need to achieve greatness.
Cultivate courage. Leaders have to take the hard decisions and have the
hard conversations. This mean exposing themselves to a certain degree of risk.
It’s often not recognised that to be courageous you have to accept a certain
vulnerability as well.
Be humble. The
greatest leaders, those who inspire loyalty, are humble. They instinctively
respect others, something they show by the way they talk to, and about, them.
However, being humble does not mean being a doormat: leaders are humble and
assertive at the same time.
Practise generosity. Being
generous means more than financial rewards—although those are always nice.
Leaders should be generous in all sorts of ways: ready to praise achievement,
and to spend time listening to their followers, without imposing a solution