How would-be leaders get it wrong

Computer Weekly columnist and top management guru David Taylor lays bare the five key errors that can undermine a manager's route...

Computer Weekly columnist and top management guru David Taylor lays bare the five key errors that can undermine a manager's route to success in an extract from his latest book, The Naked Leader.

What are the biggest obstacles to becoming a true leader? What presents the greatest danger of derailing those who make it? What are the highest challenges we must rise to, if we are to move beyond what we do, and arrive at what we are? Let us examine the most common mistakes.

Mistaking position for power
Respect has to be earned, loyalty built. Leaders must accept that they work for their people, focusing not on their own achievements, but on the success of others.

A leader knows that people working in the front line - on the helpdesk, for example - make the best day-to-day de-cisions, and must be empowered to do so.

Leaders will never lean on their job titles, size of office or position in a hierarchy for authority, or pretend they have access to some greater wisdom not available to others.

Being communicative rather than open
In the rush to involve others, and become a more communicative department, managers will issue briefings, release documents and shower their teams with e-mails. All in the best possible cause but, in reality, overkill. Different people need different information.

Leaders will practice a policy of openness - anyone in their department will have a right to ask for any information they wish and, unless it is confidential (in which case they will be told why), it will be shared.

Also, true openness results from everyone in an organisation knowing exactly where to find something out, and feeling that they can do this without fear.

If you ask any and every person, team and organisation to name the one thing that needs to be improved, the word "communication" will be high on the list - most often number one.

Leaders everywhere must be clear what is meant when people say this - and because communication is itself an ambiguous word there is only one sure way to find out what people mean when they ask for more of it - ask them.

Providing answers instead of guidance
People love to show that they know the solutions, or the best way to do something. As a result, they jump into someone else's problem with a size 10 answer. At best, it will work, and next time they will be asked to help again, and again.

Leaders take time to understand the issue, then ask questions to draw out the best way forward. They also follow up to enquire if the suggestion was successful and, if it was, they praise - openly.

Putting popularity before respect
We all like to be liked. With your team, however, it can cause major problems. When you become friends with the team that you lead, you cross the barrier of professional objectivity. Leaders earn respect, and do not worry about being liked.

Being visible, rather than available
Visibility is key - knowing the names of your staff and making sure that you walk through the department every day. That is not enough though - people are no longer motivated by your presence alone, you must also be available for them, in their time, and on their terms.

Many leaders are now ensuring personal accessibility to all, at set times, in specific ways. Most people will never take you up on the offer, but they will admire, applaud and respect your actions.

The Naked Leader, ISBN 184-112 4230, will be published by Capstone on 25 July, price £12.99

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