It is funny how life goes in circles. As a young man I knew that if I was going to be successful in life it would be up to me to make it happen. It needed to be that way because my family was a farming family and had been since we had arrived in New Zealand five generations ago. Everyone farmed, it is just what you did. I hated farming. It was hard work, boring and didn’t seem to pay very well. If I was going to avoid farming I would have to figure out how. The obvious answer was to go to university and get a degree that would help me into a career other than farming. So I did and before I knew it I was a member of the fledgling Deloitte consulting practice. I loved consulting and the environment I was operating in. Every day was different and every day I learnt something new. The longer you were there the more you realised that yes, success was up to you, how hard you worked and how successful you were at providing value to your clients. For me it was nirvana as I was in control.
It wasn’t long before I began leading teams of consultants on projects. This wasn’t planned — it just happened. I had no real background in management or leadership so I made it up.
Not surprisingly my approach to “leading” these projects didn’t really change from when I was operating solo because I didn’t know any better. Yes, I had to delegate tasks, review work, do performance reviews and all of that management stuff, but I still thought that success was about me and my ability. I knew everything there was to know about these projects and I carried all the detail “in my head” and the rest of the team was simply there to get the work done.
Eventually the projects became too big to be able to hold all the detail in my head, to know everything that was going on. I had to start to trust people and that was scary because I realised that my success was no longer about me and what I did but it was about my team and what they did (and yes, I did view them as my team in an ownership sense). I had lost control and didn’t like it. Suddenly it was not about me, it was about the team.
As I moved from exclusively project roles to more and more line management and leadership roles, the dependency just increased.
While I was “okay” at management, I have always been scared by the concept of leadership (when it comes to leadership I am a confirmed sufferer of the impostor syndrome, but that is another story). Eventually I hit tipping point (thank you, StepUp) and made it my mission to learn everything I could about leadership with, I have to confess, the goal of proving to myself that the whole concept was rubbish.
In the intervening period I have dedicated a lot of time to this study and while I am no expert (the more I learn, the more I realise what I don’t know) my conclusions to date have surprised and delighted me. Here are some of my key conclusions to date:
When it comes to leadership, results are the ultimate test. That is why you are there and everything tat you do should be designed to produce the results you have promised. The only caveat I would put on this is that it is sustainable results in the long term that count, not short-term results.
Self awareness and authenticity are the most important characteristic of a successful leader as I wrote in an earlier column “Know who you are”.
People produce their best work when they can use their natural strengths, and a major part of the leader’s role is to provide the team with opportunities for people to use their strengths.
Together, authenticity and strength-based development set the foundation for an environment where teams can maximise their opportunities for success.
Why do these conclusions delight me? Because the leader creates the work environment and if the work environment is critical to success, then success is all about me, just not the way I thought.