Leadership is a popular buzzword with companies and colleges right now, but what, exactly, makes a great leader?
Here to answer that question is guest Ken Wrede. His background & experience as a leader of international teams means he’s my go-to person when I want to know more about what it takes to be a great leader.
In previous lives he was in the military, started a communications company overseas, and was the head of security at an embassy in Europe.
(He’s also one of the nicest and scariest people I know. If you’ve ever attended one of his self defense workshops, you’ll quickly discover he’s not to be trifled with.)
He graciously spent an hour of his time talking with me about what defines the role of a leader, the 4 fundamental principles of leadership (regardless of context or society), and what it takes to improve your leadership skills (hint: hard work and building trust).
To help us understand what leadership is (instead of what it looks like), Ken walks us through these 4 principles:
- Critical Thinking
Let’s look at each one individually.
What is driving a group or person? As a leader, you have to understand what truly motivates your group.
Digging into the fundamentals of evolutionary psychology gives you, the leader, insight into decisions are made, why people believe what they do, and why they do the things they do.
Once someone moves beyond providing their basics needs (food, safety, etc. as told by Maslow), their motivation is mainly driven by a sense of belonging and purpose. People want to feel like their work matters. This is contrary to the widely held belief that money is the best incentive for hard work.
Offering more money will only get you so far. If you can, instead, frame your team’s work as moving towards a meaningful goal, you’ll get great results.
Everyone will feel like their contributions matter, and that builds a great team!
2. Critical Thinking
As a leader, you must be able to evaluate the quality of information you have available to you. This is fundamental to effective decision making.
If your information is faulty, but you can’t see it, your choices are going to be faulty, too. That’s why you must be able to admit you’re capable of making mistakes, and understanding your own shortcomings.
Look into common logical fallacies, and how they affect decisions. Also, learn how to recognize faulty logic when someone is making a case for a certain course of action. If you lack this skill, you won’t be an effective leader.
Previously, a company could manage the public’s perception of the brand through advertising and limiting what the public knew about it. Now, with anyone being able to start a blog that reaches the whole world, a company’s culture is its brand.
No longer can a company hide behind a public narrative of appearing one way, and behaving another. A company or group has to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk (case in point: Toms Shoes).
The group’s culture is a direct result of the leadership. You, as the leader, are responsible for fostering a healthy culture.
Ken makes a great point about being careful about using analogies that will ultimately undermine a group’s effectiveness, too.
If you want to foster a supportive environment by framing the group as family, what do you do when an employee is actively damaging the effectiveness of the group? Family means if you fire them, it’s like you’re getting rid of a brother.
Instead, Ken suggests using the analogy of leadership as the host of a party. Your job is to make sure the party goes smoothly, it’s a pleasant experience for everyone involved, and if someone starts throwing the fine china you can ask them to leave without remorse.
Leadership is especially important in the time of crisis and uncertainty. A crisis can be from a lack of resources, imminent danger, or some other threat to group cohesion and effectiveness.
As a leader, you job is to take your group through the crisis into a place of well being.
How do you do that?
Your group has to trust your choices, and building that trust doesn’t happen by magic. It requires putting in time every day demonstrating good judgement, and eventually you will build a relationship with your group built on trust.
Ethical Use of Power
Whether you’re navigating uncertainty, or normal day-to-day operations, the group will trust that you have their well-being at the heart of your choices.
As Ken defines it, this is at the heart of good leadership. Leadership is the ethical use of power for the benefit of the group; not just the leader.
That’s why corporate CEOs who continue to give themselves raises at the expense of their workers who can’t make rent are demonstrably not leaders.
Leadership is simple in theory, but can get quite complex when really start digging into it. That’s why Ken’s predictive model of effective leadership is so useful.
If you’re interested in hearing more about what makes a good leader, listen to the podcast episode where he pulls back the curtain on his work, and then visit Ken’s Website for more articles on leadership.
RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE PODCAST