Integrity is the most-cited response to survey questions of what people want in a leader. This top-ranking transcends cultures and generations. Integrity sends the message, “You can trust me to guide you in the right direction and to watch out for you”. Leaders with integrity deliver on the commitments they make and the commitments they accept. They do this by knowing not only their own capability, but also that of their team. They do not over-commit for themselves or their team; they are able to say no and explain why. When they do say yes, they get the job done; and they make sure they enable their team to succeed.
You cannot lead people from behind a desk. When you do come out from behind the desk, there are several reasons you are doing so; such as to inspire and influence others, to be visible, to set the example. A commonly offered definition of leadership is “accomplishing results through people doing things they may not normally want to do of their own accord”. Setting the example is the most basic way that leaders get these results. Employees do what they are told, because they understand that to stay employed they must do those things.
Real leaders, however, want their team to perform, not conform. The goal is to get high performance from people because they want to give it; not to extract compliance and conformance. Setting the example is one of the primary ways leaders establish the credibility and rapport that is needed to elicit performance. Your actions, your personal example, speak more loudly than your words and your people are always “listening”.
You cannot lead anyone or anything if you cannot lead yourself. Effective leadership of self depends on a high degree of self-awareness founded on honesty and introspection. Genuine people know themselves; they are fully aware of their strengths and limitations and recognise that they are part of the team. This all leads to a confidence that enables them to walk their talk, to deliver consistent messages and to look people in the eye in a way that engenders loyalty.
At its core, leadership is about people. Fundamental to this is that leaders take care of their people. But this concept also uncovers one of the biggest clichés in modern business; people are our most important asset. Countless organisations, and the leaders in these organisations, say this but the reality of their actions is far different. The message that they often send is that people don’t really matter — it is all about the bottom line. Taking care of people is one of the fundamental responsibilities of leaders. It requires deliberate and intentional effort and sometimes the efforts of the leader will be rebuffed. That is not a reason to stop doing it. The return on investment, of time and money in taking care of people is very high.
Taking care of people is about setting a standard and helping them achieve it. This is not coddling people nor is it a sign of weakness from the leader. It is quite easy to dismiss people, but it is far too difficult to replace them. It is so much better for a leader to create an environment where they want to stay and they want to make a positive contribution.
During my time in Asia Pacific, I have had the honour of being recognised as a leader. Individual success is gratifying, but real achievement is the result of the work of many people. I want to thank everyone who was a part of my achievements and emphasise their successes will continue long after my departure.
Mary Ann Maxwell is Gartner group VP, executive programmes.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.