Leadership is one of the defining traits of humanity, and is in fact prevalent in most species, leading to survival and success. Being able to provide co-ordination, planning, organisation, and delegation are all important topics in life, particularly in business. According to the Origins and Evolution of Leadership (A.J King, D.D.P Johnson et al, 2009), ‘leadership emerged in pre-human species as a mechanism to solve simple group coordination problems where any individual initiated an action and others followed.’
It’s evidential that humanity has progressed, evolved, and dominated as the prominent species on the planet due to the emergence of leaders, whether that be through democratic or dictatorial ruling. There are many different opinions as to how to lead correctly, whether that be in politics, sport, business or even family. But what makes a good leader and what are the defining characteristics which provide the highest chance of success?
We spoke to Nordens’ Head of Strategic, Joe Sword, about the relevance of leadership, whether leadership can be shared and how leadership can be carried out during the digital age we currently live in…
How important is leadership not just in business but in all aspects of life?
I think it’s vital to have that figure to look towards as a source of direction, action, and motivation. You look at the top businesses, and even the top sports teams, in the world and the common trait is that they all have inspirational and quality leaders or multiple leaders. I also think it’s not just about one person being a leader, it’s creating that leadership culture that everyone leads by example. In business, the people at the top of the tree need to be seen and respected as leaders, as they will be creating a team that follows and ultimately will take over one day as a leader potentially.
In general life, it’s crucial to have people to lean on and support you which is exactly what a leader is designed to do. Having a mentor allows you to grow and develop, learning new lessons and being motivated to achieve more. Most of the top leaders in the world wouldn’t be where they are if they hadn’t had a leader to confide in.
What makes a good leader in your opinion?
The traits that I’ve come across during my life is that a good leader generally spends time with their people and listens to them. This obviously ties into good communication skills and being able to adapt your communication styles appropriately, which for me is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Exuding that passion is also key as it breeds that ethos for the team to follow.
I think many of the characteristics of a good leader crosses over with trust and having that backing from your team that they wholeheartedly have confidence in what you do. This works both ways also, as giving team members autonomy to do what they’ve been hired to do is imperative. This can be executed in a very clever way, by still having some element of control and accountability but allowing your team to carry out the task in hand with full support and the momentum to develop.
Explaining that vision or the bigger picture constantly, and referring to it shows decisiveness, whilst being open to criticism is also pivotal. Taking on board feedback is central to a good leader, as no one can be right all the time. The book always stops with the leader though and being able to make those tough yet logical decisions, sometimes against people’s wishes, is often necessary to achieve further success.
What makes a bad leader in your opinion?
One of the sure-fire ways to lose respect as a leader is to go by the mantra, ‘do as I say, not as I do’. This shows a huge gap in relations and sets a terrible example that words means more than actions, which just isn’t true. If you don’t practice what you preach, then your team will slowly, or often quickly, lose confidence in your leadership. If you tell people to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself, whilst talking down to them, it is a very negative way to go about being a leader.
Public criticism, micro-management and undermining of your team are all very common things in leaders, however it creates a sense of fear and anxiety which isn’t healthy when aiming for success. Poor communication and just letting your team get on with it without checking in are also signs of weak leadership. This lack of compassion and empathy produces a huge divide which will likely drive your team away.
Do you believe that in business there can be more than one leader in a particular company and what are the best ways to collaborate in leadership?
Yes definitely, there can be more than one leader in a particular organisation or team and commonly the most successful companies have numerous leaders. If you look at the most successful sports teams, there are always plenty of leaders both on and off the playing field, which creates a strong mentality to thrive.
When collaborating in leadership, it’s all about utilising your own strengths and respecting others when projects or topics arise that resonate with them. This might be in development, procurement, sales and marketing, social media for example. Having leaders in all departments is necessary if the business is to grow in alignment. This can be achieved through constant communication and being able to adapt to challenges or issues in a timely yet appropriate manner.
How can leadership be exhibited in the correct way digitally as remote/hybrid working has become the norm, in relation to communication etc.?
I’d like to touch on a little bit what we’ve done here at Nordens. At the start if lockdown, our CEO, Mitch Hahn, quickly implemented family team calls twice a week. This not only updated everyone in the organisation on changes or developments, but it also allowed us to learn new things about team members’ interests which we probably wouldn’t have known if we were all in the office. Hybrid working has really helped us form a solid bond throughout the business.
There is still no excuse to not be able to communicate clearly through digital formats, and to be honest it’s almost made it easier to get messages across. There is of course most definitely a place for face-to-face communication, especially with body language which is quite difficult to gage when communicating digitally. However, I don’t think leadership will necessarily change all that much in the digital age, perhaps just the execution which can be developed accordingly.
Is leadership an innate, born quality or can it be a learned or acquired skill?
Personally, I’ve always had the mindset that if you want something enough you can learn anything and achieve your dreams. I’m not of the view that you’re born a particular way. You may have certain genes or characteristics from your ancestors, however who’s to say that these traits weren’t learned during formative years. It’s the whole nature vs nurture argument.
A lot of it boils down to how passionate an individual is and how willing they are to put the hard work in to gain those leadership qualities. Surrounding yourself with a solid and educational support network provides you with the tools to learn and acquire those skills. One of the things we do in the strategic department here at Nordens is touch up those leadership qualities in business owners, providing them with a wider perspective on their company and their team.
Constantly obtaining knowledge through talking to other leaders, reading research, and putting yourself in challenging positions will give you the impetus to become stronger and in turn a successful leader.
We hope this has outlined to you the processes of good leadership and how it affects your business. If you require any further information on our advisory services, or anything accounting related for that matter, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us at Nordens where one of our trusted advisors would be happy talking you through your query.