The psychology of a good leader

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Jo Ellen Grzyb highlights the key characteristics of inspirational, supportive leaders and outlines how directors and managers can implement simple changes to transform their own effectiveness.

Human behaviour

Good leadership is about much more than business know-how. These skills are more essential than ever in today's commercial world, where businesses are being expected to deliver more with less, or face being superseded by their competitors. Leaders need to fulfil different roles, and the modern model of leadership is drastically different from the more traditional role leaders took, which was very business strategy-focussed and far less focussed on human skills than it is today.
And as the workplace is a constantly evolving ecosystem, leadership skills and leader roles aren't reserved purely for those in management positions, the designated leaders. Good leadership skills can propel team members of any position to add real value to their organisation, and often it is only when people are already playing the role of leader that they are promoted to management positions, 'elected' by others as they stand out.
Leaders in the modern workplace, with its flexible, extended working hours, and additional workload pressures, must be able to empathise with their teams' concerns and needs, almost taking on the role of psychologist. They should know instinctively what their teams' needs are by observing what is happening in the workplace.
A good example of this is when seeing that a team member is struggling with a particular task or business area, to step in and offer advice, coaching or additional training and to show empathy.
 
"Leaders in the modern workplace, with its flexible, extended working hours, and additional workload pressures, must be able to empathise with their teams' concerns and needs, almost taking on the role of psychologist."
A good leader will know how to be all things to all men – or at least give it a good go. As humans we all have an 'authentic' face which shows our true selves, and ideally, that is the face good leaders would want to 'wear' most of the time.
Sometimes leaders have to be more pragmatic and know how much 'authenticity' the other person can take. This means knowing when team members require their human, empathetic side, and when they require strength and decisiveness. Both may be authentic, but it is a matter of degrees.

To boldly go

The success of leaders relies so much on whether the team has confidence in their decision-making abilities and a great leader won't simply maintain the status quo; quite the opposite, they will be unafraid to make bold decisions, putting their head firmly above the parapet.
There is a big difference between making a decision, and making a decision with conviction. To inspire confidence in leadership, a decision must be made with a strong belief that it is the right one, and that it will work positively for the business.
There is a saying in showbusiness that 'an actor is either dangerous or dead', meaning that failing to take risks really renders them ineffective. Good leaders are consistently pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and questioning the status quo. It is with this consistent fluidity and striving to improve things that these leaders inspire others.
A phrase I use frequently is 'moving the furniture'; both literally and figuratively. Moving the furniture around in the office to give team members a new perspective, or trying new ways of working such as changed responsibilities and inviting staff suggestions will invigorate the workplace, and bold leaders won't be afraid to implement these types of changes.
Listening is a key facet of great leadership, and encouraging two-way communication with staff will enhance the levels of trust and respect within the business. Creating an open forum such as a group discussion where staff members are able to propose ideas for improving the business is a great way of doing this. Taking on board some of these suggestions, from team members of all levels of seniority, will provide them with a feeling of engagement and ownership within the business and increase their respect for the leader in place.
Equally as important as listening is seeing. So much communication is non-verbal, and it is important that good leaders are able to read the signs of disquiet or positivity within the company.
 
"...many leaders surround themselves with the symbols of success, whatever they may be, from a desired industry award to a dream client. These symbols can help drive them forward and help retain that 'eyes on the prize' ethos"

Visualise it and it will happen

One of the greatest strengths within a leader is to be able to see the bigger picture, and keep others focussed on the big picture too. This focus, particularly through very busy or quieter business periods, enables leaders to keep in mind the raison d'etre for the business, and inspirational figures and motivating factors in mind at all times.
Visualisation and affirmations can help with this; many leaders surround themselves with the symbols of success, whatever they may be, from a desired industry award to a dream client. These symbols can help drive them forward and help retain that 'eyes on the prize' ethos, when an unexpected stumbling block or challenge threatens to detract from their focus.
Equally affirmations, a method of repeating a phrase or mantra to oneself, particularly at times of added pressure or nerves; a major product launch presentation for example, helps leaders remain calm and focussed, which in turn filters down to the team. Stress is contagious in working environments, and if leaders are persistently stalking around in a state of panic or anxiety about major events, before long these emotions will spread.
A calm, collected leader who stands firm and speaks clearly and with real passion and conviction, will have the converse effect on the team, who will be buoyed and become more confident and inspired as a result.

Every day is a school day

As leaders are so instrumental in the success or failure of organisations, as well as how they are perceived by the outside world, it is vital that they are prepared to take on board feedback and continue to develop their leadership skills on an ongoing basis. In spite of the pressures of everyday business, there is much to be gained by remembering that every day is indeed a school day, and no one is too senior to learn and enhance their skills - including leaders.
Jo Ellen Grzyb is co-founding director of Impact Factory and a qualified psychotherapist

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