Leading People Is Foundational To Leadership
Leadership has transformed over the last few years and will continue to transform as leaders are faced with unprecedented complexity and change emanating both externally and internally in their organizations. This series of articles titled “The Leadership Blueprint” offers a blueprint on critical elements of leadership that leaders can adopt and adapt to their organizational contexts. The series focuses on essential leadership functions, including driving digital transformation, leading people, harnessing data, driving culture change, and concentrating on the future, among others. This article discusses the six key competencies you need to lead people successfully.
Leading People Is The Foundational Essence Of Leadership
Leadership is not about you leading others but about fostering and optimizing other people’s potential to execute the organizational vision and mission to achieve the desired performance results, and as such, effectively leading people is critical to the success of the organization and a foundational competency for you. Throughout your career, you will lead hundreds, if not thousands, of people of diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences. To better lead people, you will need to sharpen five key competencies: fostering empowerment and accountability, managing polarities, strengthening diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging, communicating consistently and transparently, developing others, and building teams.
Fostering Empowerment And Accountability
I often say that leadership is a coin with two sides: one side is empowerment and the other side is accountability. Promoting empowerment means articulating the “why,” or the vision, and the “what,” or the performance goals, and then empowering people to execute the “how” by giving them the latitude, the trust, and the resources to drive forward and execute how they think the organization should be moving forward to achieve its goals. Accountability means that the people you empower are accountable for their decisions and actions on how to implement the vision. They will need to substantiate their decisions and action with data to demonstrate accountability. Pioneering banker and former CEO of Bank of America Hugh C. McColl said that he was empowering everyone in the organization to execute and that he was accountable for every action they took. As a leader, you delegate responsibility, and yet, you remain fully accountable for all the actions, or lack thereof, your team and broader organization take.
In leading people, you are expected to effectively manage conflict at the individual level by listening and encouraging creative tension and different opinions. A crucial underlying requirement to managing conflict across issues or teams is managing polarities. Polarities are complex problems or challenges that cannot be solved by selecting one over the other. An example of polarity across teams is the conflict between teams operating above the line, like sales, and below the line, like learning and development. As a leader, when you understand and effectively manage polarities, you can inspire your people to be more curious, more innovative, and driven to deliver performance outcomes in your organization.
Fostering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, And Belonging
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are four foundational values of leadership because they reinforce teaming, improve productivity, and drive innovation. Fostering DEI&B means that you lead an organization that embraces all the knowledge, ideas, questions, and perspectives of team members and ensures that they are equitably heard and feel included in every aspect of the organizational vision and mission. As a leader, you are responsible for setting the diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy in your organization and ensuring it aligns with the employee strategy to optimize the employee experience. Additionally, you are also responsible for strengthening allyship within your organization by setting the example by building trust, actively listening, outsmarting your cognitive biases, practicing empathy, and embracing lifelong learning.
Communicating With Transparency
Communication is foundational in leadership, and you need to be able to communicate in a transparent, consistent, and clear manner. As a leader, the way you articulate your vision, the challenges ahead, and the opportunities for the organization can play a significant role in how you lead people and how they feel led by you. Communication implies not only speaking and writing clearly but also actively listening to what customers, employees, and stakeholders are saying. When you practice empathy and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you can actually deepen communication and build trust.
Building effective teams is critical to the way you lead people. You need to lead by example to cultivate commitment, pride, spirit, and trust in one another. You will need to motivate and inspire the team to strive and work hard to accomplish the organizational goals. Trust is a foundational element to team-building, and to build trust, you must convey trust. First, your thoughts, ideas, values, words, and actions must align, and then you have to communicate your vision clearly. Second, you must extend this trust to your team and let them drive the “how” they will execute the vision as discussed earlier under empowerment and accountability. Trust works best when it is reciprocated between the leader and the team.
Developing Others Through Lifelong Learning
Finally, a vital element of leading people is to ensure that they are learning and growing within your organization. Nothing motivates people more powerfully than their own growth trajectory. As a leader, you have a responsibility to build a learning ecosystem within your organization using the five building blocks of people, content, data, technology, and governance which I describe in Chapter Four of the book “Forward Focused Learning.”  By encouraging employees to adopt a learner’s and an explorer’s mindset, you empower them to broaden their horizons and, consequently, their self-efficacy and ability to think differently and problem-solve effectively on the job.
Leading people is foundational to your role as a leader and vital to the success of your organization. Leading people is not easy and requires consistent and continuous practice and commitment to many competencies. This article offered five competencies you need to master: fostering empowerment and accountability; managing polarities; fostering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; communicating consistently and transparently; building teams; and developing others through lifelong learning.