By Pamela Odukoya, Toastmasters International

My first experiences of leadership role models were somewhat disillusioning. They were people who strutted around self-importantly without considering the impact of their behaviour and attitude on their staff. These leaders were focused on the task.

There were times when I wanted to suggest new ideas, but I was too scared to contribute. I observed that other team members were nervous to ask for help when they did not understand a task. These leaders made swift decisions and had very little consultation with the team. This type of leadership style created an atmosphere of distrust and it made me anxious and demotivated. This experience delayed my first step into leadership because I did not appreciate this style. Such a style is called autocratic leadership and research shows that it can damage the team’s morale. This was exactly my experience.

Even though I was not exposed to other leadership styles in the early stages of my working life, I came to realise that leadership styles can vary significantly and that a leader could demonstrate different styles depending on the situation in which they are leading. It is often argued that good leaders adapt their style depending on context.

Through a period of reflection, research and self-analysis, I gained a greater appreciation of my own diverse skills, experience and values. More importantly, I gained a new understanding of the different leadership styles and self-analysis helped me to discover my preferences.

My leadership career now spans seventeen years. This includes leading a team of career advisers in both private and public sectors and leading a team of volunteers in a public speaking organisation. I view leadership as an opportunity to collaborate with a group of people and motivate them to achieve a common goal. It is not about a position, rank or title. I adopt the transformational leadership style as my dominant leadership style because it gives me the opportunity to inspire and develop others whilst building productive relationships and using a great deal of creativity.

Regardless of a leader’s style, every leader should be able to set goals, use resources efficiently and effectively, motivate the team to achieve the shared vision and be innovative. I consider Integrity to be a key hallmark of a leader, and this involves owning your mistakes, being transparent, fair and consistent

If you are an aspiring leader, then here are a few tips to help you on your journey. They certainly helped me, and I hope they will be useful to you too:

Leverage Continuous Development

Continuous professional development is one of the things I enjoy most about leadership as it gives me the opportunity to enhance my knowledge and sharpen my skills. I then draw upon these competencies to motivate my team, review policy and processes and bring about innovation. It also an activity that helped me become a leader.

Learn it

Both formal and informal learning can help aspiring leader to develop.  I would recommend these online resources as starting points.

  • The Chartered Management institute: managers.org.uk
  • Future Learn: futurelearn.com
  • Consider reading ‘What Got You here, Won’t get You There’ by Marshall Goldsmith. It provides some insight into the leadership behaviours that you might need to adopt.

Try it

To get some experience of leadership at senior level, I would suggest you consider applying for a trustee role in a charitable organisation. As a trustee, you will be part of a board and you will have legal responsibility for the management and administration of the charitable organisation. Some resources to help you explore the role of a trustee are:

Or you can try to take on a leadership role in a volunteering organisation or professional association.

The skills you have gained in your personal and professional life can add value to a charitable or volunteering organisation and this can contribute towards your growth and development in leadership. I have had two trustee positions as well as lead a team of volunteers, and both helped me to learn new skills including strategic management and budgeting.

Invest time to understand your team

Leaders inspire people to work towards and achieve goals. Developing productive working relations is an absolute must for leaders. Time invested in understanding the personalities, values and aspirations of team members by listening and engaging with them is well spent.

I recognise that my team members have their unique beliefs, values and aspirations. Therefore, I seek to gain understanding of these aspects through formal and informal meetings and listen actively to their story. Though this process can be time consuming, the benefits are immense. It helps me to gain my teams’ trust and create a safe working environment which can subsequently impact on their performance and productivity. In addition, it also helps me to be alert to their situation and identify signs of demotivation early.

I still remember the light bulb moment I had when I invested time to understand a team member who was underperforming. Through a series of informal meetings, I learnt about the team member’s personal barriers. As a result, I worked with them to identify support needs and made the necessary workload adjustments. These adjustments helped the team member to reengage with work and optimise performance. Consequently, they gained the confidence to study for further qualifications and successfully apply for a leadership position. Without this time investment, this person might not have been able to reach full potential.

Help with individual growth

My passion for personal growth and development gives me the drive to empower others and support them to realise their full potential. Apart from regularly assessing my team’s training needs, it’s important to be find creative ways to motivate and stretch my team. In one of my leadership roles, I created mini projects for team members which gave them the opportunity to work at a different level and influence change. As a result, they developed new capabilities and greater confidence to engage with a wider group of stakeholders.

Recognise and show appreciation for individual and team effort

Many leadership writers agree on the benefits of showing appreciation, as it has a positive impact on individual and team performance and wellbeing. This is echoed by many theorists such as Frederick Herzberg in his ‘Theory of Motivation’ and Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.

Some of the ways I have showed recognition to my team include simply saying “Thank You”, announcement at team meetings, communication via team correspondence and of course the power of a chocolate cake on a Friday afternoon. You can also consider tangible forms of recognition such as certificates or awards, as well as monetary gifts.

I have learnt that some team members prefer private recognition rather than public recognition. Therefore, I apply the Platinum Rule, which basically says, “Do unto others as they would want to be done to them.” I follow this rule by tailoring how I treat people to respect their preferences.

When showing recognition, it is important that you are fair and consistent otherwise it can be deemed as a form of discrimination, and this can affect the team’s morale.

Another aspect to be mindful about relates to how you recognise your team at external meetings. Do you focus only on the metrics? Do you single out only the top performers? How about that team member who never gets a mention despite working so hard to support the team? Have you spelt every one’s name correctly? These behaviours can be harmful because they impact on the team member’s status within the team. Always aim to build an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging.

What will be your next step?

  • Begin by reflecting on your current skills and attributes. Some of them might be linked to the leadership competencies. For instance, if you enjoy organising events for your family and friends, think about how you can take your organisational skills to the next level. Sound organisational skills can be linked to leadership competencies such as collaboration and team work.
  • Read autobiographies of great leaders or find interviews with them to help you to identify leadership behaviours that you could model.
  • Think on all the poor leadership styles you have experienced. On reflection what might these leaders could have done differently?
  • Apply for a leadership position in a volunteering organisation. This is a safe way to explore all aspects of leadership such as planning, organising, influencing and motivating others. Above all, you will receive valuable feedback which can help you to develop your own leadership style. As a volunteer, your mistakes are viewed as learning experiences as opposed to a work environment where mistakes can cost you your job and might impact on your ability to pay your bills

Leadership is an exciting journey – and there is never a better time to start than right now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pamela Odukoya is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org