What is leadership?

When people ask me what is Leadership, I always think about the quote from John Quincy Adams – “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.

I believe that, in its purest form, that this is what leadership is all about.

It’s not about position or commanding people, it’s about the actions you take, and it’s about setting the example and being a role model for others to follow.

That’s the leadership of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela who were 3 of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.

This is the type of leadership that we should strive to emulate.

I think that we can only really call ourselves leaders, when people follow us because they want to, rather than they have to, because of our positions.

I know that in business, as much as we would like to believe otherwise, many people only follow us because of position and not because we have truly inspired them.

I think that the role of the business leader is to look to inspire their teams by setting big bold beautiful goals, create an inspiring vision; then showing their teams how these goals can be achieved, creating a strong belief that it’s possible; then providing the resources and support for their teams to be successful; and finally celebrating and rewarding that success.

When we can do this, we can create teams and organizations, which can achieve outstanding results.

Once we have set our big bold goal, then we need to take a FAST Approach, which means we need to provide:

• Focus, tell the teams what’s important, clearly define what success looks like, and tell them what needs to be done;
• Accountability, clearly define roles and responsibility, let your teams know who has to do what;
• Simplicity, keep things simple, keep complexity to a minimum, too often we over complicate things, so develop a simple and easy to understand plan;
• Transparency, provide a clear picture of the progress that needs to be made, and how your teams are progressing against that plan, and do this regularly.

In my experience the main reasons projects, departments or companies fail is because of a lack of Focus, Accountability, Simplicity or Transparency.

So if we can increase our competence in these 4 areas, then we will increase our chances of success.

At one company where I worked we were resolving 90 per cent of all our customer issues within the agreed time, which the team felt was great performance. Yet we still had an awful lot of complaints from our customers, which didn’t seem to sit well with the performance we were achieving.

On further analysis, what we discovered was that we had 4 different levels of problem

1 – critical – which had to be resolved within 2 hours
2 – major – which had to be resolved in 4 hours
3 – minor – which had to be resolved in 3 days
4 – cosmetic – which had to be fixed in 5 days

In order to understand the reason for the complaints we focused on those problems where we failed to fix them in time, and what we found was that of the 10 per cent of problems which were late, the majority of these were the critical and major problem.

As majority, over 95 per cent, of the problems we had were level 3 and 4, which we had 3-5 days to fix, it was easy to achieve the 90 per cent result by focusing on those.

No wonder the customers were unhappy, we were declaring success, but we were not addressing their urgent needs.

To fix this we changed our focus, and instead of measuring overall performance we measured performance for each problem level, so we could look to fix the 90% of the critical and major problems in time, as well as the lower level priority problems.

We then assigned specific teams to fix those critical and major problems, improving accountability.

We simplified the process by ensuring that those problems were easily identified and could be routed to the right teams in a timely manner, and finally we produced real reports which showed us when problems were about to become late so we could assign additional resources to provide additional support.

Initially our overall performance level dropped from 90 per cent down to 85 per cent overall, but within that we managed to solve over 90 per cent of the critical and major issues in time.

Not surprisingly customer satisfaction improved significantly, which in turn motivated the teams, everyone likes to feel they are doing a good job.

This then allowed us to actually set a bold goal to solve 95 per cent problem within agreed times.

The teams knew how to do this, they were getting great feedback from the customers, which inspired them, and they had focus, simplicity and transparency, which then allowed them to hold themselves accountable to achieve the goal.

The result was that they actually drove performance up to 98 per cent, without increasing costs, which was an outstanding result.

As leaders, this should be our goal. It helps create great motivation within our teams, and that helps us deliver fantastic results, which benefit not only our customers, but also ourselves.

Gordon Tredgold has worked in IT for over 20 years and is a specialist in Transformational Leadership, Operational Performance Improvement, Organisational Development, Creating Business Value via IT, and Program and Change Management. He is the author of ‘Leadership: It’s a marathon not a sprint’ (£14.99) which is now available on Amazon.