Real-life leaders: knowing vs doing

Image of paper boat being followed by others to illustrate real-life leaders

There’s a big difference between knowing about leadership and putting that knowledge into practice. It is real-life leaders we should seek to emulate, says Diane Coolican of development agency Redsky Learning

Are you a leader who regularly reads up on how to improve your organisation but struggles to implement these tips and suggestions in your workplace?

While most CEOs and directors aim to stay updated on the latest trends in leadership and organisational management, many companies see little change in day-to-day operations or long-term strategic direction.

So what stops leaders from applying management theories and concepts to real life?

The real world seldom replicates a model or a case study. Every organisation is different ­– while there may be common themes, the culture, context, challenges and outcomes required vary and the approach must therefore be adapted accordingly. The phrase “one size does not fit all” rings truer here than anywhere else.

There are a number of ways leaders can use theories and concepts to refresh their leadership approach.

Real-life leaders

Ask yourself: what do my employees want from me as their leader? What have I accomplished in this team? What did not go well and why? What could I do better?

The answers to these questions can help determine your next steps in terms of what you want to bring to the team and how you expect them to react to it. Assessment also includes talking to your teams – how do they feel you have been managing them and leading the organisation? Do they have suggestions for the organisational culture you have helped create?

Have an open mind

While leadership models add vital insight and provide a lens for debate and considerations, none in isolation could provide a solution to real-life leaders and the real-life challenges they face.

Theories can seem quite rigid at times, keen to box individuals into categories. For instance, leadership guru Kurt Lewin defines three types of leaders: autocratic (who do not discuss ideas with their teams ahead of making decisions); democratic (who gather their team’s views before making a decision); and laissez-faire leaders (who encourage their team members to make the decisions).

Truth is, you do not have to be any single type to be a successful leader. Look at the positive aspects of each leadership style and see what you can draw upon to create your own style that works for you and your organisation.

Get a fresh perspective

Professional leadership training – in the form of workshop modules, masterclasses or one-on-one coaching ­– can help provide a fresh perspective on things. Coaching, both face to face and via telephone or Skype, is designed to support transferring leadership skills to the workplace and to overcome challenges and obstacles on an individual basis.

Such programmes can help assess real-life leaders and the challenges and circumstances they face, while also developing leaders to engage and energise others, driving them towards a common vision.

Have a leadership plan

Practical techniques and strategies for leading more effectively can rarely be internalised without a plan. A good place to start is to outline three key leadership objectives that you want to achieve and the first action in terms of achieving these objectives.

Let that first action be your guide and assess progress on a regular basis to ensure that you are taking the right steps to meet your leadership goals.

About author

Diane Coolican

Diane Coolican

Diane Coolican is a managing director at Redsky Learning, a specialist learning and development consultancy.

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