Articles

The Single Most Important Leadership Trait In Setting Your Company Culture

October 20, 2020 - By Tony Flannigan, Associate, BSc (1st Hons) Naval Architecture MSt Manufacturing Leadership

As I approach retirement after 42 years of working in the shipbuilding and chemical industries, I was reflecting on the different bosses I have had and what makes the most difference. In thinking about this there are many words that come to mind such as Authenticity / Honesty / Trust etc., etc., however, one word above all others captures what it is that truly great leaders have that distinguishes them from others.

Courage:

  1. It takes courage to confront your own individual unconscious biases to attract and assemble a thoroughly diverse team i.e. people who are completely different from you. Same= safe, Different = risky.
  2. It takes courage to be humble enough to suspend your own preferences and thoughts to ask others what they think.
  3.  It takes courage to create a safe environment where the power of that diverse thought can all contribute without fear. i.e. to assemble a team who will challenge you and each other and to create an environment where this is not just welcomed but encouraged
  4. It takes courage to be authentic and true to yourself to disclose your own feelings and thoughts and what drives you.
  5. It takes courage to say the things everybody else is thinking but no-one will say.
  6. It takes courage to ask for constructive feedback when you know you wont like what is said. It takes courage to simply say ‘thank you’ for feedback that does hurt you in the moment. It takes courage not to get defensive to feedback you don’t like or agree with.
  7. It takes courage to give constructive feedback that you know may not be received well.
  8. It takes courage to enable people to perform to the best of their ability by judging and taking the risk on what is the maximum possible growth they can achieve to get to their next level of capability and performance.
  9. It takes courage to delegate the outcome to others and therefore risk what the result may be when you know yourself what will guarantee a result i.e., they may fail, they may achieve as you would, or they may exceed what you would.
  10. It takes courage to develop people further than they are comfortable in going themselves i.e. pushing them out of their comfort zone. This also implies you have spent time to get to know them and what they aspire to do in their lives.
  11. It takes courage to temper an over enthusiastic achiever to walk before they can run.
  12. It takes courage to suspend your own ego and not tell / show everyone that you have all the answers, rather you spend time asking coaching questions that lets them discover their own answer.
  13.  It takes courage to stand up to a boss who is demanding instant results when you are investing time and taking risks on growing your team.
  14. It takes courage to prioritise what to do and, more especially, what will NOT get done.
  15.  It takes courage to censure or punish someone who had everything they needed to achieve but who were careless, or worse.
  16. It takes courage to differentially reward the good people who go the extra mile from the slackers.
  17. It takes courage to admit when you have made a mistake.
  18.  It takes courage to ask for help.
  19. It takes courage to be curious and innovate and let go of the known to find unknown new ways of doing things.

Finally, courage is NOT the same as being fearless. To have courage is to be frightened of possible outcomes but still do it anyway despite what the consequences might be.

Looking at the list then, courage has 2 sides to it. One is the compassion to care enough about someone to do all the softer aspects listed above and the other is the tough love side that ultimately builds that person’s capability to be the best they can possibly be.

I have never met a truly inspirational, effective leader who wasn’t courageous.

Tony Flannigan
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