In an edited extract from his book, Leadership Plain and Simple, Steve Radcliffe explains why leadership needn’t be as complicated as it’s often made out to be – and how you already have everything you need to be an effective leader
Boy, have I been slow?! For years, I’ve read all the latest books on people, leadership and organisations. Why? Because I’ve been seduced into thinking that this leadership stuff is really complicated, even mysterious. And I believed I’d have to do lots of reading to really ‘get it’.
A major error! In contrast, when I’ve reflected on what it was about the leadership that switched on that board, project team or warehouse operator, I’ve recognised that there have always been three ingredients at play: Future – Engage – Deliver.
This is the model I have proven in use with leaders the world over. It has consistently been the catalyst for leaders who have wanted to accelerate their own and others’ growth. It really is that simple – I promise you that you’ll find a place for any leadership idea you come across inside this framework.
The fact is that whether you want to organise a great birthday party, create a high-performing team or help build a society that prospers, you will need to practise these three aspects of leading. Of course, it may not be easy to be brilliant at all three aspects, but I promise you that these ideas are all you need to ‘get’ in order to grow your leadership. Let me explain.
First, leading always starts in the Future
Leading always starts with ideas and thoughts about what you’d like to see in the future, how you’d like things to be, where you’d like to get to or what you’d like to build. We have many words to describe these ideas; these include ‘goal, target, ambition, aspiration and dream’ and, from the world of business, you can add words like ‘vision, mission, direction and strategic intent’. These are all ways of describing the future you want.
I’ll say a lot more about future later but let me be absolutely clear right now – powerful and effective leaders are guided by the future that they want. And more than this, the leader is strongest when that future is powerfully connected to what he or she cares about.
Why does this matter? Because the more commitment the leader has for the desired future, the more they will persist, the more energy they’ll bring along the way, the more they’ll stay ‘up to something’.
Additionally, when the leader has this powerful relationship to the future they care about, it can also have an extraordinary impact on others – sparking innovative thinking, giving people a reason to go the extra mile, providing hope in times of difficulty and, most importantly, giving meaning to people’s work. In essence, a strong connection to the future you want can create a mood of optimism, hope and possibility that can ignite human creativity and build confidence.
Second, if you want the help of others to create that Future, you’ll need to Engage them
That is, you will interact with them in a way that has them want to build the future with you. Engagement is central to a leader’s ability to build alignment, involvement, ownership, unity and team. Crucially, it is absolutely distinct from ‘communicating to’, ‘presenting at’, or ‘telling’.
I am staggered that so many leaders still appear to believe that, in order to get the best from others, it’s enough for them simply to ‘transmit’ their ideas or wishes. It isn’t.
Engaging others is all about interaction and it’s something that happens inside your relationships. To be fully effective, you’ll need to engage people in yourself, as well as in the future you want to create – and this calls for qualities like integrity, openness and consistency. When engagement occurs, not only is an enormous sense of possibility generated, but people will be ready to knock down barriers as they pursue what they have helped to invent.
What’s possible for a group or organisation when people are really engaged can be immense.
And third, in Deliver, you make things happen
This is where words like ‘performance, execution, implementation and results’ live. Leading doesn’t stop with ‘vision’ or ‘team’; it ends with delivery.
So, for the birthday party, you start with ideas about how you’d like the party to be – you start in the Future. Then you chat with others you’d like to organise it with – you Engage them. Then you encourage and support them to make it happen, to Deliver – and, if you’re really being a leader rather than a doer, the other people you’ve engaged will make most of it happen.
Whatever the ambition or goal, this is what’s involved: Future – Engage – Deliver. You’ll notice I don’t dwell on leadership competencies or qualities. Rather, I prefer to focus you on what you have to get done. If you want to be truly effective:
- you have to be guided by a Future you want;
- you have to Engage others; and
- you have to Deliver.