What Great Leadership Looks Like
If ever there was a time the world needed good solid leadership, this is one of those times. It feels like everywhere we look, issues are escalating. And some in the wrong direction. Our health, our government, our economy, our social fabric… it feels like a big crazy unsettling mess that can make it really difficult for any of us to stay positive and find a way to keep moving forward. You just want to be able to look to a leader, any leader, and trust that what they say and do is in your best interests. That they’re telling you the truth and that they’re in it for the long haul, regardless of how tough it gets.
‘Leadership’ has become one of those words that is so overused and oversold, some think it’s lost its true meaning. And the concept of leadership has almost become a commodity, with the work, the capability and the value of what real leadership is, underestimated and misunderstood. Working to support those who lead is a large part of what we do at Compass and so, we regularly see the good, bad and sometimes even the ugly when it comes to this subject. But because we are fortunate to serve the clients that we do, we often get heartening glimpses of what great leadership looks like!
Working with one of our teams recently, we were discussing how they operate as an organization; what works and what doesn’t. They were very clear about what has made them successful for many years now and what made their lives as employees easy. Without hesitation, they credited their leadership team. So, we asked them to explain what they meant by that.
Trustworthy and Stable
They shared that they are where they are because they have strong, stable and capable governance and leadership. Trust and stability is the key. They understand their leadership team and the way they think. And they can rely on them to be consistent. The vision is long-term and doesn’t waiver. People are not having to chase a moving target. Everyone knows what’s expected of them and that they are supported. They trust that the leadership team has their best interests at heart because that’s what’s demonstrated day after day.
“Effective leadership – and again this is old wisdom – is not based on being clever;
it is based primarily on being consistent.”
They spoke a lot about their leadership not just being there to lead as figure heads but also being ready, willing and able to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work, alongside their people. At Compass we believe that effective leaders are prepared to- and do- work together with their people. It’s one thing to expect and encourage your teams to burn the midnight oil in order to meet targets and deadlines. The critical difference is to have that same expectation of yourself and to show up and support your team ‘on the floor’. It builds trust, confidence, and if you’re struggling with employee engagement, this is the best place to begin. Hands down.
Leading is about the ‘people’. It’s about meeting your commitments and the expectations of your people. The team we were working with talked a lot about how necessary it was to keep their work ‘personal’ because they need to ensure what they do makes a difference for the staff and community they serve. Keeping that perspective front and centre motivates them and provides clarity about why they come to work each day. When there’s a ‘face’ to what you do and who you serve, your work means more. Next time you get your team together, have a conversation about why you all come to work in the morning and who the people are that you serve. Watch where that conversation goes, and it will give you a great opportunity to determine how true to your ‘why’ you are staying.
So being consistent, getting involved and making it 'personal' are what has carried this team on to achieve the decades of success that they have. Something to think about.
And now, we’d like to leave you with a short story from the forest industry that illustrates great leadership in action:
A fellow I ran into some time ago was telling me about a leader who embodied the three characteristics we’ve been talking about today. Reminiscing about his days thirty-some years ago as a young forest fire fighter during a very bad fire season, he told me that he’d heard rumours of the guy at the top, who when things heated up, would move a cot into his part-time office at one of the regional fire centres. This man led an organization of about 5,000 people yet found time to get to know as many of them as possible. He believed in showing up beside them as they worked, and sleeping in the office meant he could be there with his senior team 24/7 while they were battling the blaze.
The gentleman telling this story shared that he’d been on a major project fire for almost a month. One day while out on the line with his crew checking for hotspots, he looked back down the fireline and spied in the distance this silver haired guy walking up the line alone, wearing khakis, a checked shirt, dusty old bush boots, and aviator sunglasses. Not expecting to see anyone else in this section of the line he stopped and waited while the guy approached. When he got close, the man lifted up his sunglasses, reached out and shook the firefighter’s hand asking, “How’s it going son, and is there anything you need?”
He then proceeded to sit down on a blackened stump and to talk, and listen to what the young firefighter had to say. After a short conversation, the visitor stood up and continued on his way walking up the line alone, to the next crew. Back at base camp that night, the firefighter found out that the man with the aviator sunglasses was ‘that guy’ he’d heard rumours about. It wasn’t a long conversation that they had. But it was a good one. It meant the world that someone showed up to check on him and let him know that they cared about the work he was doing.
We have plenty of examples of great leadership from both our clients and our own experiences over the years and across many industries. Reach out to us, if exploring those stories could help you sharpen your own leadership game.