How often do we look at the most engaging and inspiring leaders of the world and ask ourselves, “why can’t I have a bit of that?” Let’s face it, there are leaders out there who are engaging, effective, and carry with them a potency that seems to almost create a class system in terms of leaders. But what is it about their potency that places them at the top of the leadership pecking order (if such a thing existed!)? There are three characteristics consistently seen in those I regard as potent leaders.
1. They are natural
2. They can relate with ease
3. They own the role of a leader
Let’s explore these ideas in brief.
Potent Leaders are Natural
A potent leader comes across as natural; there is a higher degree of authenticity with what they do and how they do it. This is because for them the debate on just how much we allow ‘who’ we are to influence our work isn’t a consideration. I often hear leaders express concern over how they work hard to keep their personal and professional lives separate, or put effort into managing the balance. Little do they realise that people engage as much with who we are as much as they do the other factors such as remuneration, rewards and the aesthetics of the workplace. Years of global engagement surveys highlight this fact; but the chances are your people aren’t reading employee engagement surveys, but they are reading you every day.
Being natural is about having a strong sense of self; being aware of your boundaries and being comfortable with what you are prepared to share, and the extent to which you are prepared to allow ‘who’ you are to colour your professional life and leadership style. Accompanying this is a healthy level of self-esteem and knowing that a little bit of vulnerability and openness is demonstrating that you are human; you are real!
So how can you be more natural in your leadership approach? The easy answer is to have the confidence to be yourself. If this isn’t a strong point, then question the self-talk that undermines and eats away at your confidence to allow more of yourself into the role. Chances are the self-talk is based on messages we have picked up throughout life (many that we have brought from childhood into adult life) that are irrational and probably not relevant to who you are today. So anything you can do to raise your levels of self-awareness and learn more about what makes you tick, will go a long way. Working with a coach who can help you connect with your values, reading or working with a mentor who is acknowledged as a natural and effective leader are all ways to help develop your style.
Potent Leaders Relate with Ease
The more natural we can be within our role, the more likely it is that we will be able to relate to others in an engaging style. After all, people will know ‘who’ it is that they are interacting with, which makes it easier for the communication flow and for the other person to also relax and bring more of who they are into the dialogue. When you are more relaxed with yourself, it also means you can increase your focus on the other person. Because you aren’t so worried (consciously or unconsciously) about what the other person may be thinking of you, this means you have more energy to invest in them. Observing their body language, looking for small cues that let you understand what they are really saying. You are signalling that you are interested in them; in ‘who’ they are. Leaders who relate with ease are really quite unconditional in their approach. To relate with ease is almost always about putting who you are, and your needs, to one side and really listening.
The impact for global leaders in this regard is significant. The ability to read small cues and be awake to what is really being said is critical to bridging the cultural gap. It is how we identify the cultural rituals and understand the differences that exist between us; allowing us to engage and relate with greater meaning. More importantly though, building any relationship, intercultural or otherwise, is an extremely unconditional process, and one that requires an acknowledgement that no matter which nationalities we may be interacting with we all share the some process for how we develop relationships. That is; we all need to go through a process of building rapport (seeking to understand ‘who’ the other person is, what their rituals are, and what is important to them), as a precursor to enjoying the natural momentum and engagement that comes with a well developed relationship.
To improve the way you relate with ease, one of the most powerful things you can do is one of the simplest. Invest time at the beginning of the relationship to understand who it is you are dealing with. Ask questions and be inquisitive. Be interested, not interesting.
You will soon realise that the idea of relating with ease has less to do with you, but more to do with how you enable the other person to relate to you with ease.
Potent Leaders Own the Role of a Leader
Allowing more of yourself into the role, and relating with ease can help you grow into the role of a leader and evolve as a leader. Underpinning this is your ability to acknowledge that you are a leader, in a leadership role. Your decisions and behaviours impact the careers and lives of those in your team directly and indirectly and in obvious and not so obvious ways. From decisions on performance review and pay increases and decisions to hire or fire, through to making off hand or throw away comments that may be in jest or only half thought through…but if taken out of context by an employee can impact their thinking and behaviours.
If you don’t understand this, then it doesn’t matter how natural a leader you are, or the extent to which you can relate with ease. You are missing the point that you have signed up for management and everything that comes with it. This means making the difficult decisions and having the hard conversations as well as ensuring you celebrate the successes.
The key message is that the potent leaders don’t shy away from the fact that they are a manager. They understand that there is an inherent power that accompanies the authority of their role that can be used to inspire, motivate and help lift performance. This inherent power is a natural accompaniment to leadership. You can’t have one without the other; which means that those leaders who find it difficult to own the fact that they are a leader probably don’t realise that by doing nothing in their role, they are still influencing behaviour. But not in the way they would like.
The Final Word?
No matter who you are, your role, or level of leadership; you can start developing your potency whenever you want; it’s not something that requires permission from anyone else. You own your potency.
Be pragmatic and look for ways to practice and experiment with new ways of engaging and track the responses and results. Read books on the subject, take tests that allow you to learn more about your values and what’s important to you, be coached or mentored, and above all value the integrity of your relationships.