What it takes to be a leader!

Are you fit to inspire human beings to be great and do great
things for your organization?


Many leaders may think the working world has gone soft in recent years. Judging from how some leader envy the “strongman style” of the new incoming Twitter Chief’s unfiltered style and push for maximum effort from employees.

In a corporate context, leaders need to have the ability to build trusting relationships with their colleagues from other functions.  Without such political acumen, their world-class skills will not get a chance to be used effectively or let alone live to see another day.  Two years ago, I was part of a difficult call with a large caucus of local CEOs that was trying to set up a corporate incubator in the Gaborone. I worked with a Head of Innovation from a local bank to create a process for selecting teams to join the incubator. The call was a collaboration between key local business leaders to decide which teams were going to be selected for the incubator and ultimately developing the curriculum for the incubator.
The call I am alluding to above served as a reminder to me that corporate leadership is politics. Many leaders cannot accomplish their goals without having strong support from their colleagues. If that support is withheld for whatever reason, they can feel stuck for a while. Many companies often hire leaders on the basis of their long list of qualifications or ability. While having a long list of qualifications is important for their personal success, it is simply not enough for the success of the entire organisation.

Leadership is certainly not for everyone
For those in the esteemed role of a “leader,” a serious question needs to be asked: Are you fit to inspire human beings to be great and do great things for your organization? Whether you’re a line manager on the floor or an executive in the C-suite, you have to eventually accept, in your heart of hearts, the fact that the majority of the leadership decisions you will make will involve people. And since people are an organization’s most appreciable asset (as the cliché goes), it becomes even more apparent that a leader’s most important asset is to develop people skills (i.e., soft skills).

Today’s Board Chairs, Chief Executives and Human Resources executives understand that their organizations cannot retain highly engaged, high-performing employees without developing leaders to manage, coach, develop, and inspire loyal teams. One big reason leadership remains a challenge is due to companies not identifying and developing young potential talent early in their careers to accelerate up the leadership ranks to meet the complex human needs of today’s workers. This leads to an important question: Are companies ready for the emerging new leaders that are needed today?

Authenticity and empathy for effective leadership
Authenticity as a value has been found to be a significant factor in engaging workers and managing conflict. However, lately too many leaders show passive-aggressive tendencies, like creating distance or stone-walling to avoid conflict. Authentic leaders show the capacity to courageously run toward the eye of the storm. They know that cutting through a conflict to resolve a problem with respect, dignity, and active listening is easier than the negative consequences of running away from a conflict. This is the essence of leading with the strength of valuing your people and their well-being. In practice, valuing your people both as workers and human beings greatly reduces suffering and anxiety, raises performance, and increases value, loyalty, and trust across the organization.
One of the skills of every leader is to set the right goals and expectations for employees, as well as to create the kind of work that is fulfilling and has meaning and purpose for each individual contributor. To that end, leaders must make work dynamic and have it tailored to the abilities and needs of fellow workers. For example, mental health challenges in the workplace have increased in the post Covid-19 era, understanding each team member’s unique experiences, challenges, and opportunities for improved success will greatly increase their engagement. Authentic leaders now have an enormous responsibility to take care of people. According to studies in business leadership, great leaders provide for learning and growth while developing potential and career paths for others. They also model appropriate behavior and build up their people through encouragement and affirmation. So true leaders teach and coach their followers to provide an environment of more freedom and autonomy at work, but with clear measures of accountability. Leadership studies assert that the strength in good leaders comes from sharing power and decision making — pushing authority down to empower others. Sounds counterintuitive, yes, but remember: Good leaders are selfless and don’t subscribe to “positional authority.” They understand that they don’t have all the answers and that every person has something to contribute. One of the most important things we teach in our course is to shift from a command-and-control mindset of making all the decisions to one of releasing control and building competency in others to step up to leadership decisions.

Good leaders enhance relationships and relate well to others at all levels.
Good leaders as research studies assert, enhance relationships and relate well to others at all levels. They promote a sense of belonging and connection for all team members. They also work collaboratively and emphasize teamwork. Finally, they value the differences of others — differing strengths, expressions, ideas, personalities, and viewpoints.

Whether your company is a startup or an established business, there are questions that must be asked in order to find out if your leaders have what it takes to get the best out of employees. If they don’t pass this list of questions, it’s an opportune time to develop their soft skills. Some of these questions come out of our own self-assessments as part of our full development process.

O’Brian M’Kali (PhD, MBA, MSc, M.Ed.), is an expert in enterprise development, innovation, SMME development, policy development, capacity building, monitoring & evaluation and turnaround strategy. He lectures at Botho University. Among others, he is a 2022 recipient the Wadhwani Foundation’s Gold Award at the Start Me Up Global Facilitation Ceremony. He can be contacted on 71860308 (WhatsApp).