“Leadership is so important,” Sonia McDonald, CEO at Leadership HQ, told HRD. “We all have the ability to become a great leader.”
“I think the difference between good and great leadership is definitely a sense of self and self-awareness,” she told HRD. “It’s vital that people in positions of leadership have an understanding of who they are in terms of their values, passions and purpose.”
Leaders also need to recognise that having a strong workplace is about being attentive to everyone around them – they must be willing to compromise their own views and needs, McDonald said.
According to McDonald, opening up your mind to true leadership is key to success; she specified that great leaders never stop learning – they are always opening themselves up to self-development.
“When I work with leaders who want to go from good to great, when they say they want it they really want to know who they are; so often it’s a case of putting a mirror up to them and giving them that sense of self-awareness,” she told HRD.
“I put leaders through different diagnostics to get a sense of their strengths,” she added. “I’m very focused on strength-based leadership – understanding leaders’ goals, purposes and philosophies.”
For McDonald, developing leaders is about making a difference; she sees leadership in terms of inspiring more people to be better at what they do. To achieve this, leaders must be willing to undergo improvement themselves.
“Ultimately, they must practice self-development,” she explained. “Great leaders seize learning and development opportunities. It doesn’t have to be through formalised learning; while some come to coaching programs – and are dedicated and focussed when they do so – many opt to improve their techniques simply by reading articles on leadership. The most important thing is that they put things into action and are willing to take risks.”
Another aspect of leadership which McDonald flagged up as an essential was authenticity.
She said that it’s important for leaders to exert authenticity because “they must own who they are and do what they say they will do.”
“Authentic leaders know their workforce, and they know their audience,” she told HRD.
McDonald suggested using a technique which she refers to as ‘LBWA’: Leadership by Walking Around.
“I find that leaders who are out on the shop floor having conversations with their workers are among the best, as they get a real sense of what’s occurring on the ground rather than being oblivious to it,” she explained.
McDonald gave Richard Branson as a high-profile example – “he is known for regularly conversing with the guys on the tarmac,” she said.
This ties in with the importance of being self-aware.
“The more you know yourself, the more you can get to know others,” McDonald advised.
According to McDonald, showing employees that you have a vulnerable side is important.
“There’s a power in being able to admit when you don’t know something,” McDonald told HRD. “It’s about being the best they are but coming across as human and genuine by accepting that they do need the support of people around them.”
“We’re all human,” she added. “It’s ok to admit to being out of your depth and needing help. Some CEOs I work with fall apart – they admit to me that they’re struggling – obviously they need to be resilient, but showing vulnerability in the right situation is more than acceptable.”
Leadership: it can make or break a company. So how do you ensure that your leaders are equipped with the tools to make them – and your organisation – the best?