Passodue has always had the topic of leadership at heart: over the years we have interviewed for our blog enlightened leaders such as Niccolò Branca and Sergio Casella and we devoted an entire section to the topic and the tools for being effective in their role. But what if we try to look at different types of leaders and team management techniques through the eyes of employees? What do employees expect from a real leader?
I asked Francesca to help me in this reflection since she is a professional with a rich variety of work experience as a Personal Assistant, which is a role that often saw her become the “boss’s” closest associate.
Follow along in our considerations…
The ideal leader
All of us in life have had to deal with a “boss.” Starting with parents, older siblings, scouts and buddies, senior colleagues and so on, there must have been at least one time in which we received directives if not actual orders. Even those who have a role of great responsibility are accountable to someone, perhaps at the top of the organizational chart be it it shareholders or members. Each of us has thus developed his or her own idea of what the “real leader” should be like, developed perhaps precisely by contrast to personal lived experience. What qualities then should a good leader have?
Francesca, who has had the good fortune to meet many leaders in life, has come to a clear vision:
“Leadership is an intangible, mysterious, sometimes even inexplicable thing. The leader can be a positive force – just think of great figures in history such as Martin Luther King, Gandhi-or a leader with destructive charisma, and unfortunately history is full of these figures as well.”
While leadership is not easy to define because it is “intangible and mysterious,” one has to wonder whether “leaders” are born or made.
That alchemy of human capabilities and professional skills that we call leadership can evolve only from oneself, from the honesty of looking inside oneself and the willingness to improve oneself putting one’s experiences to good use.
We agree with Francesca that “leadership is sometimes innate and the charisma that characterizes it also manifests itself very early on, allowing those who are gifted with it to become a reference for others in a natural way”. But it is also the result of skills built over time: professional and personal credibility. In short, it is the result of a journey that, if carried to the end, can make one a leader with authority regardless of the position in the organizational chart.
The art of maieutics
I have always loved the concept of maieutics: the exercise of dialogue guided by the master who leads the pupil to search within himself for the truth by determining it independently. A leader, like master, does not just want to impose his or her choices but to ensure that they are shared and accepted, therefore s/he adopts a style of dialogue and communication very similar to maieutics. In fact, Francesca also argues that the leader is the one who has fully understood the value of communicating and knows how to attract and engage people. S/he knows how to narrate and motivate by saying things that “make a difference.”
“Years ago I worked with a man with a truly extraordinary personality: a former U.S. ambassador who was a master of interpersonal relationships. His greatest talent was his ability to cultivate fair and constructive relationships with everyone while earning the respect and esteem of the other party even in the moment of disagreement and discussion. A man capable of pounding his fists on the table when the moment called for it and being perfectly calm a moment later. He became a leader by virtue of his many years of accomplishments and the great goals he achieved. In the day-to-day he was a magnificent teacher: engaging, demanding, clear in his demands. Accurate in expressing his satisfaction or disappointment. Always credible and fair even in the moment of contrast or rebuke. Working with this kind of figure is very challenging but enormously enriching.”
Great driving forces make their passion for their work a way of life. Their strength is consistency, which is the coincidence between what they declare as their goal and the ability to achieve it. They feel the same passion for their professional life as they do for their private life.
Photo aaker on UnSplash
Working with a leader is stimulating, instructive, galvanizing. But, as Francesca tells us, living up to their expectations is by no means easy.
“The speed of thought, the visionary ability of this type of leader represent a constant challenge to what we think we can do. Even when we are convinced we have given 100 percent, we have to be prepared to be told that it is not enough.”
To work well with a strong leader there is only one system: relinquish our point of view, our certainties, and try to think as if we were in their place.
“Ask ourselves a lot of questions, think about multiple solutions, never stay on the surface: it’s a huge commitment but as a collaborator also a priceless opportunity for growth.”
What employees want
Certainly the climate and well-being within a company are related to leadership style. Francesca and I therefore tried to compile a list of the main characteristics that an employee expects to find in his or her boss’s behavior and relationship with her or him.
- “Walk your talk” or consistency between what you say and how you act: example stimulates more than many words.
- Feeling recognized and appreciated as human beings and professionals: emotional boost is the most valuable reward.
- Being able to voice one’s opinion and actively contribute to decision making: we work more passionately at what we have helped to create.
- Knowing where one is going: sharing goals, in addition to focusing commitment is concrete evidence of confidence.
- Receiving compliments for what is done well and constructive criticism for what needs improvement: with the “right” leadership it is easier to grow.
Watching your leader resembles when as teenagers we watched our parents and, if they did something we disapproved of, we would think: ”When I will grow up, I will be different with my children.” Then you get older and realize that you are acting out the same behaviors.
Being a good leader under the pressure of results is not easy.
If we really want to be an enlightened leader, we start by asking ourselves: “How can I contribute to their work?”
By putting ourselves in their shoes, applying that deep understanding that will make them feel understood and supported we will help them improve and express their qualities.
Leadership is built in a daily process in which co-workers and leaders work together for the common well-being.
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