Continuing our examination of Leadership and the effective 21st century leader, we have reached the stage where the Leader has successfully gathered their team.  They are the right people, with values that are congruous with those of the organisation.  They have the right skills, although there is probably some opportunity to learn more and they are committed, albeit in varying degrees but never less than 50%, to achieving the goals set out by the leader.

They are all in a good place.  They are enthusiastic and want to succeed. But they are all different, individual personalities with a myriad of ways of viewing the organisation and its chief.

But one important thing they all have in common is that in wanting to succeed they also want to be accountable for their own success; to feel that sense of pride and achievement when a responsibility or a project or a goal they have been set has been achieved through their own knowledge, skills and ability.

The insightful people in this group will know that they probably don’t have all the knowledge, skills and ability in exactly the right quantities to get to the top of the mountain.  This is where the influencing leader can do their best work:  finding a way to work with each individual to give them that sense of self-worth to believe that it is their own efforts on their journey that have allowed them to succeed.  But how to do this?

Recently, doing some ‘light’ reading on self-awareness (that probably deserves a lol) I found this quotation on a training website:

“Leaders are best when people scarcely know they exist
Not so good when people obey and acclaim them
Worst when people despise them.
Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you.
But of good leaders, who talk little,
when their work is done, task fulfilled,
people will say: “We have done this ourselves!”

If the language sounds a little archaic and a bit strange, that’s because it’s a translation.  The original is in Chinese.  Ancient Chinese.  This is a quotation from Verse 17 of the ‘Tao te ching’.  It was written in China in around 400BC.  So, it’s almost two and a half thousand years old.  And still relevant today, in many areas.

For me, this encompasses what the “influencing leader” is all about.  Leadership is about getting people to do things.  Except for an increasingly small group of people, blind following is no longer an option, nor is sitting patiently until told what to do.

One of the important attributes of the 21st-century leader is to be able to work at a good pace, keep moving, anticipating the market, being ready to adapt to change.  How can this sit with getting other people to do things?  This sounds like an educational option, that requires patience and time.

It’s about style.  The Leader already has a good team with good interpersonal relationships and knows when and how to intervene to keep these healthy.  The team trusts the Leader and therefore will accept the direction in which they are moving.  And most importantly they will trust that the dialogue they have with the Leader will help to keep them moving too.  Success brings motivation to continue to be better and more successful.  It is the perfect virtuous circle.

But getting people to do things means delegating, handing over responsibility for the implementation of the organisation and team goals.  No matter how skilled, the leader will need a great deal of confidence in their team to do this wholesale.  This is where the skills of leadership coaching and mentoring come in.  According to the BrifiGroup[1], this is summed up as:

“leaders who can create a context in which they can empower their staff to make their own ‘intelligent’ decisions. Management skills of leaders now include coaching, mentoring, delegation, appraisal. We believe that the key to leadership development is personal congruence. A seamless relationship between the individual and the cause, and a consistent behaviour regardless of who or what is involved. Discovering a style that is right… – and appropriate for the context.”

In getting to know their people, the leader will understand what can be improved in each individual and how to go about it.

Graham Wilson[2] describes the purpose of coaching as being to:

“Facilitate improved learning, development and performance through raising awareness, expanding thinking, encouraging and supporting.”

But coaching is not an innate skill.  It is a process that must be learned.  The process includes open but focused questioning, active listening, agreeing on appropriate actions with a set time and follow up that includes analysis and feedback.  There are many, many books and courses available to help leaders to learn how to coach.  And there are qualified and unqualified teachers.  The qualifications for coaching are certified by various bodies in part and whole with courses taking from five days to ongoing tuition, and there are recognised programmes.  The best organisation to check with before embarking on a course is probably the ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management).

Coaching will be right for the team members who need the lightest of touches, who have sufficient skills and knowledge and are themselves, good leaders.

For those who are on the earlier part of their journey, mentoring is a closer relationship that will help bring about speedier access to knowledge and skills.

The difference between coaching and mentoring is that the mentor will share their own knowledge and experience to guide the mentee in specific areas in which the mentee is lacking in both of these attributes.

In the first instance, a good mentor must have the willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise.  There can be no ego here and the mentor must be willing to teach what they know in an ongoing relationship.  They will be a role model for the mentee/protégé and therefore will treat the relationship with seriousness and feel invested in their mentee’s success and will see their success as joint, not as the outcome of the skills of the mentor.

Confident male leader, coach talking with multiracial group of office workers, having good conversation with subordinate, brainstorming, discussing business strategy, ideas, team buildin

This is a relationship that will need constant energy and enthusiasm.  And feedback must be constructive and positive.  It is possible that once the mentor has decided that the protégé has gained the required level of knowledge and expertise, the relationship can move into a coaching relationship, in which the individual, now more confident in their own ability, can begin to take more ownership of and responsibility for their own and their part in the team’s goals.

For both the mentee and the coaches, the benefits are a more rapidly advancing career path, working with and learning from a leader that they trust and admire.

The benefits for the leader are also measurable, in that, according to a study carried out by Durham University[3]:

“mentors stated that the greatest benefit that they derived from the process was providing them with an opportunity to reflect on their own practice and developed a network of enabling relationships”.

And there has to be the personal satisfaction of seeing others develop through the use of their own mentoring skills.

To see the team, learn and develop, moving out of their comfort zones with confidence and all of this reflected in business success should be a source of ongoing satisfaction and pride to the influencing leader.

And if the team, both individually and together, believe that they did it themselves, so much the better.  And what a credit to the leader’s skills!


[2] Leadership Laid Bare 2018

[3] Durham University mentoring survey 2009