I have just returned to London from Shanghai and New York where I interviewed leaders of our industry and they are all battling through uncertainty. That uncertainty might be the enormous upheaval taking place in the media communication business, the headwinds of the global economy or the shifting political landscape, perhaps a combination of all three. Reflecting on these many conversations, it strikes me that great leaders have consistent attributes even in uncertain times.
Firstly, their leadership is authentic. Great leaders have the innate ability to be themselves, to be self-aware, and have the humility to act on mistakes they have made. If a leader is being true to whom they are, they will be consistent. They will set a clear set of values in stone, which are then demonstrated in everything that the company does. Culture is often mistaken for values, but values are set, they govern the way the business behaves and they do not change. Meanwhile, the culture that supports these values will evolve and always strive for relevance. Most importantly, for people to have belief in a leader they need to trust them. That trust is built on a foundation of honesty, authenticity and the setting of consistent values.
Secondly, leaders have a vision. Great leaders are able to set a north star and articulate how to get there. They can describe this road map but not be controlling, instead enabling everyone to understand how they can help move the business towards the north star. This quality enables people to live the vision. If the business is going through change, which many businesses are right now, that clarity of vision and the road map to get there, helps people feel safe within this transformation, giving them permission to do things differently.
Thirdly, all the leaders I have met actively listen. Sure, they talk and set the agenda but the great leaders ensure there has been a great deal of listening first. Then they keep listening and the people in their team know they will be listened to.
Next up is the ability of these leaders to inspire hope through confidence. Whether delivered in an introverted or extraverted way, a leader’s confidence will engender conviction which inspires and unites. When times are uncertain leaders need to offer employees hope and demonstrate confidence in the direction the business is headed. This hope and confidence becomes infectious and delivers momentum which sets the pace by which change is achieved. Just imagine the impact if a leader aspires, through motivation and inspiration, to unlock 10% more commitment from each employee. Great leaders know this and get that extra 10%.
Added to that it is the ability to inspire people to be one, to work together as a team. Great leaders know that collectively a business is more likely to win. Fostering an environment within which people are seen to actively support and celebrate the success of those around them will encourage a winning culture.
Finally, these leaders are brave because they make decisions. Crucially, they make the difficult decisions. No one has a crystal ball, but one sure thing is leaders that do not make brave decisions are stuck. A business that is stuck doesn’t plateau, it plummets and will therefore not have energy to deliver change.
We may be living in uncertain times but from the brilliant leaders I have met these past few weeks in the international hubs of our global industry, I’m confident the best talent is capable of leading us into a more certain future. Why? Because they have what it takes to lead.