Vince Lombardi, the great ex-coach of the recent Super Bowl winners, Green Bay Packers was an inveterate purveyor of quotable one-liners and became almost as famous for them as he was for his evident coaching skills.
One of my favourites on the general subject of leadership was:
“Having the capacity to lead is not enough. The leader must be willing to use it.”
That is a big statement and warrants some serious consideration. For example, in discussion with a business leader this last week, we assessed the methods of communication with his executive team.
When I asked about one-to-one meetings with his team, he said that he did just that, once a year. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but in essence it becomes too much of an event, too formal and moving towards more of an appraisal.
Communication is the heartbeat of an organisation and unless the leader exerts his leadership with his team, they will tend to do their own thing and run their own business within the business.
This is not to say, in any respect, that he is failing in his leadership: just the opposite, as it happens as the business is coming through the recession in good heart under his influence. It is, perhaps more that he is not exerting his leadership qualities to the optimum extent.
One of the primary functions of a leader is that of coach or mentor to his team and that cannot be exerted without direct, one-to-one discussions Corridor meetings, occasional chats, team sessions, board or partner meetings are insufficient. It is only when the leader meets with his individual team members on a regular, formal basis that communication really starts to work.
Crucially, the leader needs upward communication so the agenda of the one-to-one is not his/hers; it is that of the team member. The function of the leader then is to listen and help the team member to uncover the issues which are really important and perhaps help him/her to identify the options for solution.
It takes time for people to fall into a level of comfort with the practice but it is well worth the effort. So, set a programme of one-to-ones with the team, on a diaried, regular basis, perhaps once a month, for a set time. 90 minutes to two hours, ask the team member for the agenda a couple of days beforehand, and then sit and listen.
It's tough call for a leader just to listen and not dive in to solve a problem, but it is essential to allow the team member to dig as deeply as possible into the issues.
This is, of course, all well and good and leads to far better communication and usually a higher level of job satisfaction for the team member.
But, the big question remains: who mentors the leader and how frequently?
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