Why Great Leaders Don’t focus on “Leadership” (and what they do instead)

One of the challenges of being your own boss and building something incredible (be it an 8-figure global business, a solid family, or just the best local 5-a-side team) is that you need to step up and be a leader.

The only problem with that is there’s no real measurement for what a “great leader” is.

You see tonnes of books, courses, and speakers that focus on the enigmatic quality of “leadership” and yet it’s one of the hardest things to judge. Similarly, in my life I’ve worked with hundreds of great leaders and the only similar thing about all of them was a “feeling” they gave me.

But that’s not good enough.

In my journey to becoming a great leader myself, I’ve dissected what made these leaders so effective and the differences to those that claimed to be “leaders”. I came to a shocking realisation:

I had to say to myself, Boyd Parker; “Great leaders don’t focus on leadership”.

Today, we’re going to look at what they focus on instead.

What it means to be a “great leader”?

There are a lot of qualities that feed into leadership; this is what feeds into your unique leadership style. That’s one of the reasons it was so difficult to figure out why the greats are so, well… great.

When thinking about leadership it’s easy to get bogged down by how focussed we are on the business-side of things. Most concepts of leadership read like the job spec of a rookie business owner looking for a CEO. But being a leader isn’t about being able to run a business, being a leader is far simpler than that:

It’s about people. 

My mentor, instilled this in me. He sat me down and said: “Boyd Parker, being a leader is about allowing those that work with you to be the best versions of them and helping them reach whatever that looks like for them. Being a leader is about marshalling a load of unique skillsets, personalities, and styles to working together to achieve a common goal.”

So how do we do this? It boils down to three things:

  • Be a great communicators
  • Have empathy
  • Motivate others

How to Be a Great Communicator

Communication is making sure that we understand what is being said to us and that what we say is being understood. Sounds basic, but you’d be surprised (or maybe not) at how many people are awful at both!

Typically, poor communication is down to assumptions made by either party about what has been said. It’s our job as a leader to ensure that we don’t make these assumptions and that we focus on ensuring we’ve properly understood what we’ve been told. 

This means that we need to listen more than we talk.

We can’t rely on everyone else to be a good communicator, that’s a responsibility that we need to take on for ourselves. When someone’s telling me something, I’ll do the following:

  1. Repeat back to them what I think they’re trying to communicate
  2. Ask myself, Boyd Parker: “what’s their intention/goal here?”
  3. Once they’ve finished ask them “is there anything else?”

What we’re doing here is showing that we’ve understood what they’ve told us by repeating back to them what we’ve heard and given them a chance to correct us. We’ve also understood why they’ve told us this thing in the first place, and made them think if there’s anything missing.

As important as understanding is being understood. The way you communicate may be different but I try to:

  • Be as concise and precise as possible
  • Think before I email, speak, call someone
  • Match my communication style to who I’m communicating with

Now, we could talk about communication for hours but the main point to being understood is being conscious of what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. Matching your communication style to the other person is a difficult skill to develop, and we’re going to talk about it in the next section. 

How to Develop Empathy

Empathy is your ability to see something from a different perspective. We’ve all heard of the “bulldozer” style of leadership, the kind of boss that has the mentality of “my way or the highway”. Whilst that can be effective at getting things done, it creates mistrust in the people working with that “leader” and as soon as they can jump ship they will.

Being a great leader means that your team trusts you completely and will strive to be the best team player that they can be, I need every team member to feel enough trust in Boyd Parker that they come directly to me before anyone else with any given problem or negative. Being a great leader means that you’ll have less problems to deal with because your team tells you about them, instead of hiding them from you because they fear you. Being a great leader means that you have a team that backs your decisions 100% because they believe in you.

And all that comes from empathy.

But it’s not an easy skill to develop.

When it comes to building empathy the best way is to start questioning yourself and look at your own biases. If you’re serious about becoming a great leader answer the following questions for yourself:

  • What are the positive sides of the political party that your beliefs are in opposition of?
  • Think back to a recent argument with a loved one, why we’re they annoyed at you and what would you have done differently?
  • Think of any challenge that you’ve faced and solved in your life, what are some other solutions?

The first step to empathy is to practice being humble. By seeing something from another person’s perspective we gain a better understanding of who they are, how they like to be communicated with, and – most importantly – how best to motivate them!

How to Motivate Your Team to Action

When it comes to effective motivation empathy plays a huge role, we need to understand what our team/clients/market wants and why they want it. A carrot is only a good incentive for a donkey. Different things motivate different people, and the majority of people are motivated by one or more of the following:

  • Family
  • Fame
  • Fortune
  • Freedom

Now that you know that, motivating your team is as simple as figuring out which of those things they are working toward.

For example, in one of your team is constantly talking about their family and how they love spending time with them, a monetary bonus may not be the best way to motivate them. Instead, we could motivate them by giving them more time-off, paying for a cool experience that they can do with their family, or another family-orientated activity.

The easiest way to figure out what motivates people is to simply ask them. That is what my mentor did for me. He discovered what motivated Boyd Parker.

However, we need to make sure that we’re asking them to compare to the options in their head, so instead of “Would you like A?” We need to ask, “Would you like A or B?”

This is just step one, what we’re looking for is to understand what they really want. If we can help them get closer to their goal then we’ve earned their loyalty, trust, and they’re going to work harder for us because that means they get closer to their goal.

Want to Be a Great Leader?

This is just an overview of what it means to be a great leader. Naturally, we could discuss what goes into these techniques and develop them further. Being a great leader is a continual learning experience, because ultimately you lead by example. If your team sees you constantly striving to be a better a leader and understand that you’re doing to make their lives better, they’re going to strive to be a better team for you.

And it all comes down to working on three things:

  • Communication: Both being understood and seeking to understand what is being said and why it’s being said
  • Empathy: Seeing situations from other perspectives that you haven’t thought of. This is crucial in understanding what motivates your team and how best to communicate with them
  • Motivation: We are all motivated by different things. It seems obvious, but the majority of leaders use a “one-size fits all” when it comes to incentives. Once we figure out what our team really wants we can help reach it and they’ll motivate themselves

The trap of “leadership” is looking too much at what we need and our objectives. Your job as a leader is to build a team and work with that team to achieve and end goal. It was never just about Boyd Parker. I realised that being a great leader meant putting other people’s goals before mine.

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