Jul 8, 2022

How to be the best leader - now or one day

I’ve had to admit more than once that my manager doesn’t motivate me. Each time that has happened, I had no choice but to leave. Still, I entertained the idea that maybe I was missing something, and I asked myself, “why wasn’t this person the kind of leader that I wanted to work with?” Eventually I realized that we were just different: we had very different values and approached authenticity in a different way. 

Thanks to studying personality typology, I realized we are all very different. What matters to me can be absolutely irrelevant for someone else. But if I should name some areas that all leaders should more or less possess, they are authenticity, knowledge and empathy. 

I admit that every leader is also “only human”, that she or he has good days and bad days, that she or he can face troubles at home or anything else like everyone else. Nevertheless, if she or he lives her/his values, these three qualities will always shine through in each situation. 

How do I approach the role of a leader? From my point of view it is about the vision of how I can influence in the long term 2 target groups and create both Happy Customers and Employee & Lifetime Value. How to achieve this? I think the way is to perform and transform teams at the same time. It’s a question of how to prepare the team for long-term success through short-term goals and an unshakeable vision. How do I do that? I try to be fully authentic and whatever I’m expecting from my own leader, I try to embody in my own leadership.

The following points are very important to me:

Always showing genuine appreciation

Showing genuine appreciation is not easy and it’s a challenge for me too, because on the ordinary hectic days one can easily forget to do it. I think the main thing is showing appreciation at the right time via the appropriate communication channel. In order to do that, great leaders are always attentive, understanding and compassionate. They understand the value everyone brings. Yet, at the same time it is essential to differentiate appreciation based on individual and team performance. Otherwise, your efforts to reward the team become diluted and won’t have the desired impact. I try to work closely with my teams on a regular basis to see them in action. This allows me to create an “appreciation plan” designed to address the needs of everyone. Showing gratitude can’t be a one-size-fits-all task; therefore, showing sincere appreciation can be difficult. Luckily, in our company, we have a SAP Appreciation tool that supports this culture. It’s a good way to show our colleagues that we really appreciate their work, and the tool is very popular. 

Acting with an uncompromising integrity

My first steps as a manager/leader were not easy. I had to learn to step out of the role of an executive team member. So I relied on integrity as my primary means of creating a trusting relationship between the leader, the team members and the whole team. I built this through a combination of several principles that include the following: keep my promises every time, and in case I can’t, never avoid confrontation; I proactively create a plan B to deliver on my promises. I know that sometimes I am too idealistic, but I believe that in some ways it’s important to be so…with a touch of reality of course.  As I mentioned earlier, I discovered that not compromising my values and believing that I have the courage to stand up for what I believe is right for my team members every time.

To deliver on this, the ability to set clear expectations is essential. Honestly this is the area where there’s still space for me to learn and grow. Sometimes I get too excited by new ideas and approaches that suddenly occur to me. This can then have a negative impact on the clarity I provide for others in terms of goals and expectations. I believe that great leaders provide exceptional transparency that allows everyone to know where they stand and in what direction they are heading. Those leaders support everyone’s aspirations, and they shape these aspirations in the best interests of the team.

Being a helpful guide all the time

Helping others has been a strongly held value for me since childhood. However it hasn’t always been  easy to embody this approach as a leader. To explain, you don’t want to get to the point that everyone runs to you for help every time there is a little problem. You would have time for little else. Not only would others learn little, if anything, new but in addition, growing the team and the whole organization would become difficult and reliant on you only. How to get out of this? Well, I’m not there yet, but it’s surely important to differentiate between helping and helping. It’s about whether you take the solution of the problem upon yourself or whether you support the team member with questions, sharing experience and so on. My aspiration is to be generous with my time, to see each interaction or question as an important coaching opportunity where I can make a difference and learn from it as well. As I mentioned, my goal is this: not to simply answer questions but rather to lead others by means of a “thinking framework” which guides them by helping them come up with answers themselves. This is the way to give my people the chance to become the hero of their own path, choosing the path they believe is right.

Even though I know that I still have a lot to teach, I learned not to be afraid to talk about my practices and ways, as well as about what I’m learning at the moment. I think it helps to inspire others to follow. I believe that leading people is about having the ability to convince others in believing the vision they have for themselves.

Exercising a constant state of self-awareness

I know that I am not perfect. But I also know that the best way to serve my team is to understand that my actions do have an impact on others. There is a degree of responsibility that I automatically vest in my decisions. When I aspired to the MD position, one of my managers told me back then: you’ll be on your own. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about, but today I see it quite clearly. It’s me who has to make decisions and that’s what it takes to be a leader. But the path to decision making isn’t one to tread alone. I seek formal and informal feedback. This helps me gain a more objective picture of reality, and thus continuously shape the way I work to match my team needs and dynamics.

Pursuing  work with the highest passion

When someone asks how much longer I’ll be in this role, I usually say – as long as it makes sense to me. I believe that for a leader, purpose is the driver that brings to her/his work extra focus, optimism and persistence. I strive to have this internal drive that allows me to fight hard when I feel everything is going against me. It’s a matter of being authentic and self-critical at the same time. Am I still on the way? Do I know where I’m going and why? Am I adding value? These are questions I ask myself constantly and writing this article gave me the opportunity to ask and answer all these questions again and to “re-calibre the compass” after  some time 😊.

Bringing it all together

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how to being the best leader you can be now, or at least someday. I firmly believe that if I adhere to my values of being authentic, transparent and empathetic; if I continue to support, challenge and appreciate my team; and I do everything I can to transform the business in the best interests of customers and team members alike, then the question of whether or not I’m the best leader I can be takes care of itself. This is not the only way to be a great leader, but it is the path I’ve chosen and I believe it is the right one for me, my team, and our customers. 

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