My Biggest Leadership Breakthrough

breakthroughI’ve worked in leadership positions for over the past 20 years, and like most people I started with small teams, and then worked my way up to leading larger teams, and then onto departments.

At the start of this journey I got management training, and as I progressed I started to get more leadership training. I was a keen student and wanted to learn as much as I could because I wanted to be a good leader.

By following the techniques I’d learnt I did achieve good results, although this was as much due to my tenacity, drive and ability to get things done, as it was for leadership training I had received.

I led by example, showed the way and people followed me.

But in reality, most of the training just taught me buzzwords, or was actually more management training dressed as leadership training.

My real breakthrough in leadership came when I decided to stop doing what I’d been taught and to actually follow my heart. Looking to lead in a way that I wanted to be led, looking to make connections with people, getting close to them, really make them feel part of the leadership process, and showing I cared for them.

Interestingly, when I took this approach two things happened

  1. I immediately got feedback from my peers and my boss that this wasn’t a clever, or good, style of management and that I should look to go back to a more command and control style
  2. Engagement within my team increased almost immediately, and at a significant level. The more I showed I cared, involved and included them, the more motivated and involved they became and the better the results

I found this to be very interesting, other leaders didn’t like my approach, but the people I was leading loved it.

It was actually quite a tough road to follow especially as my boss at the time became very critical, but the more I led this way the better the engagement and the better the results I achieved.

I’d always achieved good results, but now there was a completely different vibe within the team, people pushed themselves harder, I didn’t have to be as demanding, they took more ownership and with this the results really did make a significant leap too.

My boss used to tell me that this was coincidental, it had nothing to do with style and had everything to do with the fact that after a year or more in the role my understanding and that of the team was greater, and now we were just seeing the results of that.

It was hard for me to argue because he did have a point, we did understand better what was needed, but I was pretty sure it was to do with the change in the approach. The whole atmosphere in the team and my relationship with them had changed, and it had become much stronger and much more positive.

At the end of the year in spite of great results, my boss actually graded me as 3 out of 5 on leadership, saying I needed to be more focused on results rather than just making the team happy, and if I did that then my leadership rating would increase.

I nodded, but in my heart I really disagreed, I was sure that my approach was what was making the difference.

Shortly after that I was offered a role in another company, and I decided to take it, I was sad to leave my team, many of whom I am still in contact with today. But I wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere where I could start my approach right from the start and see whether it was the approach, or just my familiarity with the team and the environment which had led to the major gains we had made.

At the new company I started to lead from my heart from day 1, showing people I was interested in them, showing them that I cared about them the work they did, their careers, etc, and I also decided to take this approach with our customers too, to see what kind of impact that had.

I have to say this approach was very easy for me to take, it was in line with my values, so it really helped me come across to the team as authentic, because I was being authentic, it is actually hard to fake caring for people and have them believe it.

Interestingly our results made a significant improvement within the first 3 months, exactly the type of jump that they had made in the second year at my old company,  just after I had made the change to leading from the heart and being the kind of leader I would want to have.

Not only did we make significant improvements in the first 3 months, but we also continued on that path for the full 3 years that I led that organisation.

So to me it was clear that this style of leadership was better for me, it was more natural and authentic and I liked it, it made the job fun, and also my teams liked it, I got positive feedback from them, and it also allowed us to deliver great results.

I don’t want to say it was always a bed of roses, and there were no bumps along the way, because that would be untrue, but when you show people that you care for them, that you have made emotional deposits with them, it’s so much easier to negotiate some of these bumps.

If we want to create inspired teams, then we must create trust and belief in ourselves as leaders, and one of the best ways to do this is to show people that we care.

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Gordon Tredgold

#Leadership Principles