Leadership is an elusive quality but, for me at least, it isn’t a magical one. Certainly, there are some people who seem to have a natural ‘something’ that makes people more likely to follow them, charisma I suppose we would call it. However, a charismatic personality doesn’t make you a good leader. Leadership is not just about being popular (although in fairness it is difficult to lead and be unpopular) it is a matrix of different skills. So, ignore anyone who tells you that leaders are born and not made because if leadership is based on skills, then it can be learned.
The qualities of leadership
When I started to write this article, I wanted to quote something that I felt summed up the qualities of leadership, and I remembered something from I read or heard somewhere about what makes a good leader. A quick search for it on Google, and not only did I find it, but there it was, first choice of a hundred on practically the first page. It reads:
A Leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say “We did it ourselves”
For me, this sums up the desired result of leading people; it is not the role of the manager to do everything, it is their role to allow others to do so. A good leader gives away ownership to the people in their team. The kind of pragmatic approach that focuses on goals, the process needed to reach those goals and the best way for the team to get things done is probably the holy grail of leadership in the IT world. For an industry that is often short or long-term project-based, where teams are frequently made up of individuals with very specific skills-sets being able to pull them together in a task-orientated way has clear benefits.
However, the pragmatic approach comes with the danger of micro-management, which does exactly the opposite of empowering the team. It is easy (and common among new leaders) to fall into the trap of dictating and trying to control every action or function. This leads very quickly to a disenfranchised workforce who do not take the initiative.
One common factor is that a good leader will reflect the values of the company they work for. We talk about company culture a lot in IT because this is an industry that is known for innovative and occasionally odd expressions of culture. For the leader, the importance of ‘being the company’ cannot be underestimated. If a business is aiming to be transparent with its employees, then the managers and leaders need to reflect that.
Honesty of purpose, continual application to goals, and clarity of what is expected are something that would seem obvious but are not actually that easy to achieve. Sometimes maintaining these things means that the leader must take the action of enforcing decisions that are not popular with the team, but right for the business. This is one of the reasons why charisma will only carry you so far, and if it is all you have in your toolbox, then you will soon run into problems. A leader who seeks only popularity will soon fall into ‘David Brent’ syndrome where management is second to the need to be liked.
Finally, experience cannot be ignored. A good leader develops experience at every opportunity and recognises its value in others. In short, when experience speaks – wisdom listens. In the end, the message from this article is that leadership is not something that you are born with; it is something that you learn.
If you think you are ready to take the step to management and leadership, we will be happy to talk through your career so far and look at possible options to help you develop. Feel free to call us to see what we have available.
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