How to develop as a business leader
By Pamela Odukoya, Toastmasters International
My early experience of leadership role models was of people who adopted an autocratic style. They focused on the task, made swift decisions with very little, if any consultation and showed scant empathy for the team’s circumstances.
There were times when I wanted to suggest new ideas, but I was too scared to contribute. I observed that other team members were nervous to ask for help when they did not understand a task. These leaders made swift decisions and had very little consultation with the team. This type of leadership style created an atmosphere of distrust and it made me anxious and demotivated. This experience delayed my first step into leadership because I did not appreciate this style. Research shows this autocratic style can damage the team’s morale. This was certainly my experience.
Even though I was not exposed to other leadership styles in the early stages of my working life, I came to realise that leadership styles can vary significantly and that a leader could demonstrate different styles depending on the situation in which they are leading. It is often argued that good leaders adapt their style depending on context.
Through a period of reflection, research and self-analysis, I gained a greater appreciation of my own diverse skills, experience and values. More importantly, I gained a new understanding of the different leadership styles and self-analysis helped me to discover my preferences.
My leadership career now spans seventeen years. This includes leading a team of career advisers in both private and public sectors and leading a team of volunteers in a public speaking organisation. I view leadership as an opportunity to collaborate with a group of people and motivate them to achieve a common goal. It is not about a position, rank or title. I adopt the transformational leadership style as my dominant leadership style because it gives me the opportunity to inspire and develop others whilst building productive relationships and using a great deal of creativity.
Let me share some tips for aspiring leaders that I hope you’ll find useful.
Develop your knowledge of leadership
To help aspiring leader to develop I recommend these online resources as starting points.
Build your experience
To get some experience of leadership at senior level, I suggest you consider applying for a trustee role in a charitable organisation. You’ll be part of a board and will have legal responsibility for the management and administration of the charity. You can explore the role of a trustee here:
You could also consider taking a leadership role in a volunteering organisation or professional association.
Understand your team
Successful leaders inspire people to work towards and achieve goals. Developing productive working relations will be an absolute must. Time invested in understanding the personalities, values and aspirations of team members by listening and engaging with them is well spent.
Team members have their unique beliefs, values and aspirations. Therefore, I seek to gain an understanding through formal and informal meetings, listening actively to their story. Though this process can be time consuming, the benefits are immense. It helps me gain my teams’ trust and create a safe working environment which can enhance their performance and productivity.
Develop the potential of team members
Apart from regularly assessing my team’s training needs, it’s important to be find creative ways to motivate and stretch my team, so they achieve their potential. In one of my leadership roles, I created mini projects for team members which gave them the opportunity to work at a different level and influence change. As a result, they developed new capabilities and greater confidence to engage with a wider group of stakeholders.
Give recognition and appreciation
Many leadership writers agree on the benefits of showing appreciation, as it has a positive impact on individual and team performance and wellbeing. This is echoed by many theorists such as Frederick Herzberg in his ‘Theory of Motivation’ and Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.
Some of the ways I have showed recognition to my team include simply saying “Thank You”, announcement at team meetings, communication via team correspondence and of course the power of a chocolate cake on a Friday afternoon. You can also consider tangible forms of recognition such as certificates or awards, as well as monetary gifts.
I have learnt that some team members prefer private recognition rather than public recognition. Therefore, I apply the Platinum Rule, which basically says, “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” I follow this rule by tailoring how I treat people to respect their preferences.
When showing recognition, it is important that you are fair and consistent otherwise it can be deemed as a form of discrimination, and this can affect the team’s morale.
Another aspect relates to how you recognise your team at external meetings. Do you just focus on the metrics? Do you just single out the top performer? Have you spelt every one’s name correctly? These behaviours can be harmful because they impact on the team member’s status within the team. Always create an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging.
Suggested next steps
Start by reflecting on your current skills and attributes. Some might be linked to leadership competencies. For instance, if you enjoy organising events for your friends and family, think about how you can take your organisational skills to the next level. Sound organisational skills can be linked to leadership competencies such as collaboration and teamwork.
Reflect on (the possibly many) examples the poor leadership styles you have experienced. What do you think these particular leaders could have done differently?
Apply for a leadership position in a volunteering organisation.
Read some autobiographies of great leaders, for example, those of Nelson Mandela and Brian Tracy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pamela Odukoya is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org