We were honoured to have some of the most inspiring leaders in Australia as our guests on the first season of the HR Think Tank.
Leadership is a complex topic that can be difficult to grasp because there isn’t necessarily one single right way to be a leader – it’s more about figuring out what style suits you best. Leadership also goes beyond just ‘leading people’ – there are many ways to lead.
However, through experience and education, we can learn a great deal about this essential skill.
In this blog, we will outline some of the most important things that we have learnt about leadership from some of the incredible guests on the HR Think Tank podcast.
1. Leaders Need To Foster Trust
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and can have different skills and motivations.
To be an effective leader, it is important to understand what makes you unique and what challenges you will face along the way. One of those challenges is fostering trust among your team.
According to Sarit Vandegraaf of Leadership Space, as a leader, you need to ensure that you build trust with your team so that they can perform to the best of their abilities and as the best version of themselves.
And there are a few key actions that leaders can take every day with their team to foster that trust:
- Knowing your team and building rapport is the foundational level of fostering trust. You need to think about the environment you operate in and establish what motivates your team and inspires them to do good work. Are you going to take an interest in their day-to-day lives?
- Being consistent in your leadership abilities: if you say that you’re going to do something and then follow it up with that action, then that builds trust – people trust that you’ll complete the task you said you’ll be doing.
- Showing up in terms of your emotional and social intelligence: self-reflection and self-awareness are key in building trust in leadership. What happens to you under stress, and how do you show up under pressure when you’re overwhelmed as a leader? Do your team need to walk on eggshells because they don’t know what mood you’re going to be in on any particular day?
- Keeping confidentialities: Sarit says she has come across very lovely, charismatic, and social leaders, but they couldn’t keep confidentialities – and that is a massive trust issue.
Shaney Duffy, CEO of Employment Innovations, also weighed in on the topic of fostering trust with team members and argued that beyond open and honest communication, trust is also fostered through living and breathing your core values and purpose as a leader. By living and breathing your values, you are showing your team that you are authentic and will do what you say you are going to do.
Shane elaborates, “There’s also an element of authentic leadership, which plays a significant role and comes down to being respectful, being open to diversity, inclusion and having strong emotional intelligence as a leader – they’re all important skills of an authentic leader. And when they’re properly realised, you’ll automatically build upon that level of trust that your workforce will have.”
2. Instilling Culture of Fear Isn’t Going To Take You Far
On the episode 5 of the HR Think Tank, we spoke to Burt Sigsworth, CEO of Cabin Services Australia, about how a leaders’ roles shape workplace culture and how it impacts employee happiness and performance.
On the topic of his personal leadership journey, Burt shared that the one thing he has learnt that has significantly impacted how he leads his team is acknowledging that a dictatorship essentially instils a culture of fear and that kind of leadership style can only get you so far.
Burt argues that “people will fear you and do the work you request, but only while you are looking, and only because they have to. If you want people to go the extra yard for you, being a dictator will never get you there. There’s a lot to be said for being liked. If people respect you, if people like you, then they’ll go the distance for you. So, that was an early lesson that stuck with me the whole way through.”
3. Shift Your Focus From Observed Performance to Actual Performance
Impression management is one of the many things that Omer Molad, CEO of Vervoe, has learned on his leadership journey.
In a 2018 blog post, Omer shared that, “Years ago, I used to judge my leadership by a single standard: how the team performed in my absence. What people do when a leader isn’t looking is telling. Are people focused on being noticed, or are they driven by a great sense of purpose? If they only want to impress or, even worse, they are driven by fear; then they will only do the minimum. But if they believe in the mission and feel empowered, then they will do their best even if they are not being observed.”
According to Omer, there are people who are focused on observed performance and being seen, and there are people who focus on actual performance. And what you want to do is reward actual performance, not observed performance – not people who do things to be seen, but people who do things quietly and get the results.
He has also learnt that people don’t necessarily always need you to solve the problem. Rather, they just want you to listen and perhaps give advice. You need to set certain standards and expectations and then figure out how to be there in the right ways and at the right times, and know that you’ve instilled the values and standards that will get you what you expect.
“Most leaders don’t want to do that because they want to be indispensable. But if you instil that you are indispensable because you’ve instilled a spirit and philosophy in the company, that in itself is a big achievement.”
4. Unlearn Management and Relearn Being Human
Cat Thao Nguyen, CEO and Managing Director of Global Ready, shared some incredibly insightful thoughts on leadership and how her journey to becoming CEO has shaped her understanding of what the term leadership encompasses.
She has run inclusive leadership programs across Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America and her key message that she often shares with business leaders relates to a particular quote by Javier Pladevall, who was the CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail in Spain, and he said, “Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.”
And according to Cat, this is fundamentally what inclusive leadership entails: relearning being human. She argues that “if you create that culture where people can relearn being human, you have a sense of freedom yourself because you can be authentic and vulnerable as a leader in the organisation.”
5. It’s Important to Learn on the Job
According to Ajay Bhatia, Managing Director of Carsales Australia, learning new skills, gaining knowledge, and expanding your network are all valuable parts of being a leader. He emphasises the fact that “learning” isn’t something that ends after school and once you’ve secured a job.
Instead, learning is a life-long process and should be done on the regular to ensure growth within the company and career. It’s especially important for business leaders to learn from their peers because they are always innovating new ideas that can help your company grow substantially.
“You know, a lot of people say this, and I’m going to repeat it because I believe in it: you go to university to learn how to learn. And that’s what university teaches you. But, learning on the job and from your peers is really important. I still learn a lot from the people around me.”
So, there are many ways to learn and grow as a leader – you can read books, attend seminars, and study other successful businesses. However, one of the most effective learning strategies is actually doing it on the job and from your peers.
Businesses need to stop focusing on the power dynamic of “management” and start looking at leadership from a human perspective. To do this, leaders need to focus on building trust in themselves and fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable being vulnerable with each other so they can grow together as humans.
Building relationships is key when it comes to successfully leading teams in today’s business world.
When you relearn how to lead with humanity, your employees will follow suit and trust in your leadership – which is essential if you want them to perform at their best.
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