How to become the leader you want to be

October 18, 2021

Nigel Girling

Head of Professional Qualifications
a bird leading a flock

How did you choose your leadership persona? Or did it perhaps chose you?

Many managers and leaders start out as a ‘tribute act’ to another manager or leader. It could be a leader they used to work for, a leader they admire or see as successful, the one they are replacing – it could even be a parent, coach or teacher. Whichever it is, you might want to take another look and have a think about the way you need to lead now. The world has shifted significantly in the last 18 months and that tribute act might be seeking to emulate a form of leadership that is no longer helpful or appropriate.

Many leaders once had – or if we haven’t been jaded by years of struggling against ‘the system’, maybe still have – a vision of the sort of leader we want to be…

You remember the sort of leader I’m talking about: inspiring, visionary, brave, engaging, capable and admired by others. The sort of leader others aspire to emulate and the one people turn to in times of trouble.

The problem for many of us is quite simple. We compromise our ideals to get ahead and to get things done. We duck and dive in the face of what can seem like insurmountable barriers and we make the best of it.

We do whatever we can and we learn to settle for it and live to fight another day. We fit in with the prevailing approach and style and accept it as the norm, even when it feels a little uncomfortable.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Leaders aren’t born, they are made

The best leaders always seem to have a range of options, lots of different approaches and an array of tools and techniques at their disposal. They always seem to have the answer and they never appear to be out of their depth.

That isn’t usually talent, luck or an accident of birth. True leaders aren’t born, they are made.

Those exemplary leaders have learned their craft and honed their skills. They have acquired that array of capabilities – perhaps through having great mentors and supportive organisations, but mostly because they’ve been professionally developed.

Some managers & leaders justify their existence purely through the results they achieve and the targets they deliver. Often, organisations are ok with that – perhaps because they don’t look closely enough at the true impact a leader is having.

Research shows that every manager & leader casts a shadow. The way they behave, their attitudes and values, the language they use and the relationships they build and sustain are all part of that shadow. These things matter, because they shape the way people perceive and respond to the leader.

That includes how hard people are prepared to try to meet the leader’s expectations, how engaged they are with the work they are doing, how top-management might evaluate the leader’s performance and suitability for future promotion – and many other factors.

Some managers will say ‘I’m not here to be popular’ or ‘it’s more important to be respected than liked’ – and there’s a small grain of truth in both statements.

There’s also some huge potential disadvantages. If a leader isn’t liked, it puts a limit on how hard people will strive to help them and it shapes how people might represent that leader to others. It has a direct impact on how much people enjoy their job and how they feel when they go home – which then affects their families and home life.

One in five leaders are qualified

In 2021, research has shown that a large proportion of people – perhaps as much as 40% – are actively considering leaving their job. Many without even another job to go to. Often, the thing that pushes people to leave is their relationship with their manager & leader. The data shows that the best leaders attract and retain the best people.

Despite all the challenges of recent decades and a wealth of evidence and data that shows the impact of professional qualification on these issues, still only a small minority of leaders and managers are professionally qualified. Less than one in five. Often they include those top-level leaders who seem to have all the answers. Being professionally qualified therefore gives a leader a big competitive edge. They tend to get promoted quicker, to be paid more and to be a talent magnet.

So, are you ready to be one of them?

If so, you should consider taking a professional qualification in management & leadership at the right level to support your career, your needs and your aspirations.

Find out more about our professional qualifications

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