Six Attributes of “Leadership”

This is likely a longer piece than usual, but I think important as we all consider the place of leadership mid-way through the term of appointment of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

I have been asked many times over the years I have served as a CEO, to define leadership.  There are of course quotes such as “It is an art, rather than a science”.  Or “You can tell if you are a leader when there is someone following behind you”.  What seems to be true is that you are not born to be a leader, and leadership is not achieved from a one day development training session.  However, we can grow as leaders every day – and indeed we must.  And leadership is about people, whilst management is about tasks and things.

But even those small truisms above do not do justice to this thing called leadership.  Most of us can likely recall our own examples of where we have experienced poor, or ineffective leadership.  We may even now be wincing as we read, recognising our own lack of skills in a leadership role at some time in the past.  We can also likely recall and acknowledge some fine experience of leadership that was such a joy to be party to.

Good leadership is a thing of beauty to experience.  Much like a diamond.  A diamond has so many qualities and when cut well, is a thing of beauty to behold.  It is hardly surprising that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.  As the following picture shows, even a so called six sided diamond has much more to offer than the “simple” six sided cuts.

So it is with leadership.

I provide below just six sides, or attributes, of leadership that I believe if practiced (well) every day will not only assist us to be better performing leaders but will drive better performance in our organisations.  I am certain we can all accept that leadership is more complex than these six, but these are a sound foundation.  The attributes are provided in alphabetical order only for convenience:

  • Capability – is about being equipped to do the work at hand.  It’s about having the right tools and skill set for the job.  Know your limits and continue to learn.  Develop yourself – either through recognised institutional academic learning, or through guided coaching development.  Sometimes a mix of both can work for you and your team.  Your organisation needs you to be fit and ready for the challenging tasks of today and tomorrow;
  • Character – is about maintaining integrity in one’s self amidst the busy-ness and distractions that we all face.  Once asked about which was more important – strategy in war, or character of the individual – battle seasoned General Norman Schwarzkopf, the senior officer of the allied forces in the first Iraq war said – “As a military man, one must be good at strategy.  But if you have to choose between strategy and character, choose character, because your display/living of integrity will always show, and at the end of every war you have your own character to live with”.  With the current Aged Care quality and Safety Royal Commission; the recently commenced Disability Royal Commission; and the immediate past Royal Commissions into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry; the common thread that comes through is lack of character, or character flaws – of institutions, people, and processes.  We cannot escape this.  We all need to be and do better.  And as leaders we need to set the example – now!  In our aged care services our care recipients and their families and loved ones deserve it, our staff need it (and we have the expectation that they will practice integrity of service delivery), and we must set and uphold the highest standards of integrity of character. We should be living out good character every day;
  • Chemistry – is about having the ability to relate to other people.  Leaders really are about relationships with and influencing people to achieve amazing outcomes for their services, their customers, their stakeholders, and their organisations.  ;
  • Compassion – is about feeling the pain and sorrow of others and to support them in a meaningful manner.  There is still a small, old adage that works – people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Your people are both valuable and important.  Ask these questions of your team – do I trust them, and do they trust me; and do we share the same values about our work?  The aim of course is to have a trusting relationship with your team as the basis of working relationships to flourish;
  • Competence – is about knowing yourself, your strengths, weaknesses and skills – and the gaps therein.  This is the apposite of capability – you must know your job and be competent at it, or you too will be replaced.  Know when you have reached your limit.  Engage others around you who are smarter than you but learn to lead them.  Your leadership ability is your greatest skill;
  • Courage – is about having the intestinal fortitude to make tough decisions and take tough action as and when required and pointing the way for your organisation where few might tread – simply because you as leader believe it to be the right action.  Sometimes you will make decisions that are difficult for others to live with.  Make them with compassion but do not forsake the requirements of the time and the organisation.  At other times you will make a decision to do nothing.  Again, be unequivocal about that.  You are there to lead and sometimes silence is the correct decision to be made.  You are not in your role to win a popularity contest.  You are there to lead.

These six attributes of leadership working together can create masterful team dynamic and positive organisational culture.  Practice them daily for your sake and for that of your organisation.

There is one more attribute that I believe important for us as leaders.  If the diamond cut that lops the top of the diamond off as shown in Fig.3 above did not leave a flattened top, but were cut to a zenith point, I name that zenith the:

  • Calling or Centre – the driving force that “compels” you to lead and serve.  For me it is my belief in Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world that drives me to serve.  But, this blog piece is not intended to be an apologetic proposition for the Christian faith tradition.  Indeed, I really like it that people can be part of a faith tradition, any faith tradition;  I just happen to follow Jesus.  But I enjoy speaking to others about their faith and beliefs.  Having a faith tradition gives us something outside of ourselves to focus on and rest upon.  I strongly encourage you to strive to recognise your calling or centre, name it, acknowledge it, and develop any of its finer principles, values, tenets, and attributes into your leadership persona.  This recognition could be very helpful for you, and those you lead, particularly when times are tough and demanding much of you in physical and emotional energy and intelligence.

If you feel that I can contribute to your 2020 professional activities, please contact me for a conversation.

Nice chatting

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