“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Roy E. Disney.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked back to Leeds Beckett University to talk to their Leadership Centre students again. This time I’m going to talk to them about values-based leadership.
I started thinking about my leadership journey, and what type of leader I used to be, which invariably got me thinking about the leadership mistakes I’ve made; which is why I’ve decided my guest lecture is going to be centered around my own experiences, and helping them to avoid the mistakes I’ve made. I have also witnessed some leadership mistakes from people above me (as I’m sure most of us have) and I’m going to share those too.
One of the moments that so clearly stood out in my mind around the times I’ve seen terrible leadership, leadership from someone who apparently stood for no values whatsoever, was when my ex manager used to espouse buzzwords after jargon followed by nonsense to the extent that whenever he spoke someone would mouth “bullshit bingo” to someone else in the room, and we would all start mentally counting how many of these words he used. Values-based leaders are inspirational, and nobody was EVER inspired, by jargon. I hope the students leaving my session remember that for when they’re all of our bosses. The person I’m referring to was eventually found out, as is often the case, as being all buzzwords and no substance, and I was given his job, and if nothing else, I always avoided jargon and buzzwords.
I also want the students to leave the session understanding that they have to be their own brand of VBLeader. It is great to be inspired by someone, but you’ve got to adapt, hone and create a leadership style that’s your own. How do you do that? In my experience it was from getting stuck in, trying new things, and making some mistakes. Some people see being a VBLeader as being an “authentic” leader. I’ve got a lot of problems with this term, for a fantastic article on the contradictory nature of “authentic” leadership, see my colleague Mark Gilroy’s blog: The Problem With Authenticity
Ok, so that was an example of bad leadership that I’ve witnessed, but what leadership faux pas have I been guilty of? One of many things I’ve learnt about the world of work since joining TMS, is that we don’t all want the same things from work, from our colleagues, leaders and career paths. We don’t all have the same values. That seems pretty obvious I’m sure but I think generally speaking, the world of work and certainly the world of clinical trials (my background) is so fast-paced that you never get the opportunity to stand back, think self-reflexively and wonder if there might have been a better way of packaging that piece of tough news, or in communicating a new strategy. We’re all so busy with our own goals and deadlines, and of our teams and staff hitting their deadlines that most “development” becomes a tick box exercise at best. However, as leaders it is our responsibility and our duty to think about these things. We must make the time to be self-reflexive and consider what our staff wants and needs from us, not just always think of bottom lines and outputs. I wish someone had offered me that advice in my first leadership role.
Being a leader can be tough and sometimes it calls for some tough decisions. I’ve seen many a leader fall into the trap of wanting people to feel involved in a decision they ultimately have no power to influence (thank you for voting against that change plan, we’re going to do it anyway but thanks for playing, I’m glad I got to waste some of your time with this). It has got to be the fastest way to frustrate your staff. If you’ve made a decision, or someone above you has, and it has to be that way, don’t take a vote or package it like you’re after consensus if you’re not. Be honest with people and tell them you’re going that way and why. I’m not saying to close yourself off to hearing other people’s opinions, but don’t mislead people. I understand the temptation, if they agree with you then you look magnanimous and people feel like their opinion matters, but if they don’t and you do it anyway you’re just confirming for people that their opinion AND their time don’t matter to you.
- Know what your values are
- Understand what your staff needs from you
- Appreciate that different viewpoints can be beneficial
- Be honest
- Don’t bullshit.
I’m going to end this blog on the quote I’m going to leave the students with:
“In order to become balanced, you must dismiss one big myth: that the leader is the all-knowing person with all of the answers. […] The goal, after all, is not to be right but to do the right thing.” (Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jnr 2011).