Tag: leadership skills

Leadership Development is About Developing The Right Habits

Leadership development is about developing the right habitsIn 2000 Mike Gaffney, along with co-founder Tricia Cunningham, established LEAP as a leadership development and management training consultancy. Armed with twelve years experience working at Nortel Networks he embarked on a new role as an executive coach. Over the past thirteen years he has developed substantial leadership programmes for owners of Irish and international companies.  Mike’s philosophy is that leadership skills can be learned like any other skill.  Here he discusses why leadership development is about developing the right habits, which ones have served him best as managing director, and the person who influenced him in his role as an executive coach.

You’re a business leader Mike. What leadership habits have helped you the most?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned in my journey is to be self-aware. It’s crucial to be aware of how you behave and keep that awareness to the forefront of your decision making, particularly in interactions with your team and with your customers.

Can you give an example of self-awareness as a business owner and leader?
I learned a valuable lesson one August a number of years ago when I came back into the office after getting some business from a new client. My team asked me ‘who is going to deliver the work?’  I said I talked to the client and I volunteered myself after having sat down with them for a couple of hours and gone through their challenges. One of the team then said to me:  ‘Mike , we have a problem. You don’t trust us.’ I got on my high horse, I was annoyed at the comment. Of course I trust you! But they were right. When push came to shove I didn’t trust anyone else in the business to do as good a job as I could do.  As I have since learnt: Ego is a poor Amigo.

What was the leadership lesson learned there?
As a leader, I had to stop thinking that if I don’t do it, it won’t get done properly, because that’s not leading a team. I’m just playing the role of the hero with the hundred helpers, which is unfair on the helpers, and it hugely limits the capacity of the business to grow. So that myth I was telling myself, that if I don’t do it, then it doesn’t get done properly, had to stop. Unless I found a way to leave that out and move beyond it, I could not grow LEAP as an organisation. You have to be willing to trust your team, that’s the lesson.  As Harry Truman put it so eloquently: “If you don’t mind who gets the credit, you can achieve great things.”

So self-awareness plays a key role for leaders when growing a business?
It’s critical. Without it you keep making the same mistakes. Particularly if you are successful, the skillset that made you successful will need to be fine-tuned to get you to the next level. Take sport for example. What drives a team to win their first All-Ireland will not work second time around. They will need something more if they want to win back-to-back, because the same hunger won’t be there. They need to frame their challenge in a new way and they need to tap into new approaches in themselves to make that work.

The same thing applies to a business leader who wants to grow the organisation. The skills that get you to succeed initially in the start-up stage can be the same skills that hinder you as a leader. Your own drive to be successful – doing it your way -may work in the early stages, but that can hinder you in the later stage in the context of managing a team and growing the business. The challenge as a leader is to let your team be themselves identifying areas where th ey can apply their strengths, which is where their contribution can be maximised for the company. Then give them space and support.

What are the skills that you have developed that have served you best as a business leader?
For me it’s being creative. We are a consultancy service in leadership and management for businesses, so providing creative and practical solutions for our customers is a good selling point. That’s a natural flair I have that has served me well as a leader.

But I think behaviours are more important than skills and a key behaviour is persistence. In times of recession there are going to be challenges but the longer you stay in the ring the better chance you have of landing that knockout blow, and maybe more importantly you are still standing.

What trait as a business leader has served you well?
Persistence; to keep going when it looks easier to give up and it feels like you’re pushing a stone up a hill, to trust in yourself and your team and keep going and keep looking to improve.

What leaders have influenced you, who are the people you admire?
I had a very good friend who passed away last year: Tom Touhy. The two of us coached rowing in the NUI,Galway for 14 years. He was the recognised front man and rightly so. I learned from Tom how best to support the leader, and advise him and steer him (when needed) and that has stood me in good stead.  I was becoming an executive coach without realising it.

Being the leader is a lonely place, having someone who can eye-ball you and call a spade a spade, is a great help. My time as a rowing coach has helped equip me with a framework to work with business owners and leaders in an unobtrusive and supportive manner. This enables them to be themselves, while having someone to question them in a constructive way regarding they’re thinking and decision making.

In interview with Des Kirby
Are you a company owner or team manager? What are the leadership traits and skills that serve you best. Leave a comment in the box below.

LEAP’s Make Leadership Happen Programme was designed by Mike and his team specifically to support company owners in growing their business and helping them get the most out of their teams. Contact us to find out how we can help you take your company to the next level.

How To Reclaim The Leadership Role

In part 1 of this interview with John Raftery we addressed issues of micromanagement, and the detrimental effects it can have on business leaders and their staff. In part 2 we address the task of reclaiming your role as a business leader. This task may appear daunting at first, but with a practical and methodical approach it’s possible to reassert your position as innovator, visionary and business leader.

How can a business leader reclaim the leadership role?

You’re talking about changing behaviour and that’s one of the most difficult things to do, whether it’s giving up smoking or losing weight or cutting down on drinking. These are all behaviours that are very challenging and we often need external help to tackle them. When we talk about changing the behaviour of your team, or how you reclaim the leadership role, it’s difficult to do but it can be done through a programme where you identify and articulate what the issues are.

Why is there a lack of confidence or performance?  What are the capabilities of the management team? What’s the level of trust between the management team and the business owner?  What’s the level of performance versus the level of potential? All of these things are in the mix, and from that you have to try and reshape the management team, and at the same time get the leader to change their behaviours and their way of managing.

What are the first steps in reclaiming the leadership role?

It will have to start with the relationship between the business owner and the senior management team. In an organisation where the owner is there every day, there is a lack of clarity about the role of the senior managers. It’s very up in the air. Responsibility is spread across a number of people. Those organisations are not good at structure, clarifying roles or measuring the impact of each department and assigning accountability to senior managers. Or getting them to report regularly, weekly or monthly, so you get a clear insight into business performance. Or get clear accountability so you can assign performance to individuals. You have to create that environment.

When you create that environment the owner should then be able to step back and look more at the bigger picture, the bigger issues. The big issue could be one or two managers who are just not capable of performing at the level required. They can step back and deal with those bigger issues. A lot of SMEs just get stuck into the work and build up a lot of knowledge about the product or service, but they don’t get any formal training in managing people or management methodologies.

You can get away with that to a certain level, but it can eventually undermine the business, so you have to determine if it’s a capability issue or a training issue, or is it just the wrong person in the wrong job. The management team have to know what their strengths are and play to those strengths. Some managers end up becoming involved in areas they should not be involved in.

How can LEAP help business leaders reclaim the leadership role?

Over the years I have seen a lot of people in leadership roles observe problems in their organisations but they don’t know what to do about them. So they often go and decide there is a problem with a particular supervisor or department. Then they go out and get them a training programme and hope the programme will address the issue and they don’t really look beyond that.

But very often we find the issue is not really with the supervisor, it might be with a senior manager or even the owner, but they don’t see that, so there is a great benefit to getting someone external to see what exactly the issues are within the whole organisation. Going back to what I said earlier on about changing behaviours, you do need an external force to help you change behaviours. It’s very hard to do it on your own.

Does LEAP act as that external force for business owners?

That’s what LEAP offer, a sounding board. LEAP can act as an honest broker between people and give a non-biased view of people and situations where there’s no vested interest. A lot of people would be afraid of upsetting the apple cart, acting very cautiously and that gets in the way of real honesty. People’s motives are not as clear as they should be and cultures build up in a company, like a culture of fire-fighting, or a blame culture, and that can spread right throughout the organisation.

It’s very hard to get it out and it can have huge detrimental effects. Sometimes people within the organisation can’t see it because they are the culture. But someone external can see it straight away and challenge it, and also figure out how they are going to help the organisation rid themselves of that culture, and replace it with something more positive and beneficial.

If I’m a business owner struggling with these issues why should I call LEAP?

Because of our depth of experience; we have undertaken very transformative programmes with companies where we have had a serious impact on their business. Another reason is the level of integrity. If we feel that a client is not on board with us, if we feel there is a lack of honesty, we would walk away from an assignment if we felt it wasn’t right for us, or for the business owner. Integrity is huge and I think people pick up on that when they meet us, that we genuinely want to help clients. We have the knowledge, the experience and we have the track record of being able to help.

 

Innovative leadership is the key to growth

‘Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing.’ So said Warren Bennis over 20 years ago, but micromanaging is still one of the most common bad habits of business owners today. That is, getting bogged down in the day-to-day operations of their company, when they should be focusing on growing their business.  I talked to John Raftery  about leadership skills and how great business leaders avoid micromanagement in order to create the right environment to grow their companies.

Why do some leaders end up managing instead of leading their companies?

If you look at the evolution of businesses, particularly in the SME sector, what you find is that when people start off a business they take on a lot of the roles themselves in terms of sales, deliveries and operations and so on. As the company grows that’s fine, it works for a while, and they bring in more people. They continue on as they were, but eventually the business begins to plateau. The potential of the business isn’t realised, because they are now doing more and more and running around dealing with the day to day stuff.

So when they reach this plateau this is the critical point for them to move on to really try to grow the business. They have to put the systems and processes in place to help them move to the next level. The biggest thing that prevents people from doing this is that they are not very good at delegating, and also they don’t have enough trust in the people that work for them. And even if they do trust them they haven’t got the systems in place that can actually monitor and measure the effectiveness of their management team.

Leaders need to focus on growing the business, but what does that mean in practice?

For a lot of people I come across the big frustration is they don’t spend enough time meeting their customers, finding out what they want and developing new products and services. In order to grow the business, that’s where they need to focus their attention and spend their time.

Usually they spend their time playing catch-up, or making sure the day-to-day stuff is getting done adequately. Then there’s no time left at the end of the day to address the potential that could create the growth for them. Like spending time with customers, developing new products and services, meeting new people and getting ideas, and spending time looking back at the team who are running the business day-to-day. Figuring out how well they are performing, what their issues are and trying to come up with solutions that they can implement.

It’s a skill that a lot of business owners don’t have, they might be good in some areas but they are weak in other areas. And the weaknesses trip them up. No business leader is good in every area, if you really want to be a good business leader you need to identify what areas you are weak in, and then identify people who can support you in that area and get them to work with you.

So the leaders true skill is the ability to delegate?

Yes…and driving innovation and growth. The leader’s vision is about the future and trying to achieve some vision they have for themselves and their business. Delegation is an important part of it, because in order to achieve what they need to achieve they have to bring people with them, they can’t do it on their own.

It’s also about communicating exactly what they require, it’s about having the discipline to follow through, it’s picking the right people, it’s a whole series of boxes that need to be ticked to achieve what you want to achieve. But essentially it’s about getting other people to use their energy to help you to achieve your vision and that’s the skill. Having the vision is one thing but being able to implement it and realise it is another thing. And that’s the difference between management and leadership.

It sounds like leadership requires a lot of trust?

Well trust and integrity are vital ingredients for any leader. I think we can all agree on that. If a leader loses integrity and people lose trust in him or her, then they have no role. And trust is simple to build. Essentially it’s doing what you say you are going to do. And people have huge sensitivity, they’re antenna is out all the time, and they are watching how leaders perform every minute of the day. And if at any stage what they say and what they do is not congruent people spot it immediately.

Trust is vital in a leader, but likewise leaders have to be able to trust the team to deliver. That trust is built up through a steady performance of delivery, through mechanisms that can monitor what their inputs are, how accountable they are and how effective they are. If all those boxes are ticked then the leader becomes more trusting of the management team, and stays out of the micromanagement that some leaders get involved with. So there is this continued tension between letting the management team get on with it, and at the same time observing and monitoring what they are doing as well, so it’s a fine line.

Micromanaging can damage that trust?

If a management team feel they are being micromanaged by the leader, it undermines their confidence in themselves and in the leader as well. It can be very detrimental. So trust is easy to say but it’s hard to achieve it, because it’s not something that can be measured with a slide rule, and say ‘this is the level of trust that has been achieved.’

It’s about people’s views and opinions and some people find it difficult to articulate what the levels of trust are. Or what the factors are that undermine trust, but it’s evident to us who come in externally, and have experience of looking at effective leadership and management team performance. You can pick up on it fairly quickly if you have enough experience and you know what you’re looking for.

The Deliberate Leader

Mike Gaffney The Deliberate Leader_leadership developmentLeadership Development

The Deliberate Leader blog has been written to distil the insights I have uncovered in working with entrepreneurs and company owners throughout Ireland. The first insight is to dispel the myth that leaders are born, not made. The skills of leadership are like any skill-set, If you work at it correctly and diligently you can deliberately, step by step, become an effective leader. It takes time and patience, but, most of all, it requires a willingness to observe yourself in thought and action, with a view to actively learning how to improve your behaviours and capabilities.

The second insight, is to be aware of the human’s obsession with certainty. This desire for certainty permeates multiple facets of our existence, from religious/spiritual beliefs, to personal wellbeing, to how to best manage our careers. Playing it safe, ensures survival but not excellence. Beware of certainty – certainty can lead to stagnation and a resistance to change; to preserving with the status quo. Uncertainty maintains the need to keep going; learning and acquiring new ideas and behaviours to successfully negotiate new challenges, which are coming at us constantly.

The Deliberate Leader is succinct and hopefully to the point, because entrepreneurs typically have a low attention span and look for ideas that they can immediately apply as they quickly move on to the next challenge or opportunity. As our immediate history in Ireland is teaching us, there is a significant requirement for both an understanding of leadership and development of leaders if our country is going to grow and to enable each of us to better realise our individual and collective potential.

The Deliberate Leader Growth Dynamic

The Leader’s Growth Dynamic is reflected in the following bullet points which are interlocked, and demonstrate that as you make movement in one area, you are correspondingly bringing positive movement to the other two areas of focus.

  • Have a clear sense of purpose
  • Increase your self awareness
  • Making the journey

The  bullet points below simplify what you as Leader need to focus on:

  • Become more Aware of Yourself
  • Develop and hone your Sense of Purpose; give it the space to grow – Trust yourself
  • Start now – today; make a step that propels you on your journey to becoming an effective Leader

The above three areas overlap and support each other. The human mind likes to put things into discrete categories. This is contrary to the multi-facetted challenge of being an effective Leader. Your level of Self-Awareness is intertwined and overlaps with your Sense of Purpose and with having the discipline to make your Leadership Journey. The interfaces between the three constituent parts merge, which strengthens the overall impact of the three discrete areas and keeps the three cogs moving smoothly, in unison.

For example, the greater your self-awareness as to what you excel at, the more you can align it with and compliment your sense of purpose; which as you make the journey and develop the habits you need to deliver on your sense of purpose – those habits will complement and enhance your level of Self-Awareness.