Leadership for the longterm

Leadership - the topic that’s launched countless books and research papers.

It’s an interesting concept and the focus of so much ongoing conversation and reflection, particularly as we consider what post-pandemic business and leadership should and could be.

I’ve been thinking lately about my own leadership journey and lessons learned along the way. While I firmly believe there’s no cookie-cutter approach to it, and as individuals we all need to find our own style and approach that aligns with our personality type and business context, there are four core principles I think which underpin strong, effective, longterm leadership.

1 The learning never stops

The idea of the natural, ‘born’ leader is nonsensical. It’s a naïve notion. A good leader will continue to learn and grow, and be humble enough to not just realise this, but embrace it. No one knows it all.

When I think about my leadership journey, there’s definitely been a maturity curve and arc to how I’ve approached the role.

In my early days and first leadership roles, I can now see my focus was on delivering results and outcomes that reflected well on me. The blinkers were on and my focus was somewhat selfish and self-centric. I see this default position in many young and early career leaders. We all as individuals, naturally, want to succeed but to think the individual achievement is bigger or of more value than the team is folly.

In the mid-stages of my career my focus widened to consider the performance and positioning of the teams I was responsible for leading. It was their success, and wellbeing, that was important to me. A focused, high-performing team can achieve more than any individual can on their own.

And now, with my most recent CEO level roles, that focus has broadened to look at the health of the entire organisation.

With hindsight I’d encourage all leaders, but particularly young and mid-career executives in leadership roles, to reflect and routinely self-check their purpose and focus. There’s a truth behind most idioms and I’ve learnt from experience the meaning of that well-worn saying: “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.”

2 Be open to change and evolve

The world has experienced a fundamental and accelerated shift as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the emergence of environmental, social and corporate governance, stakeholders are asking for different levels of returns from business. Employees are asking for different working conditions and leadership. Workers want more than just a pay cheque, and investors are looking for more than a financial return.

Flexible work arrangements, of which I admit prior to the pandemic I was cynical about, are here to stay. In all my years working in industrial and manufacturing environments, I never thought it possible to successfully run a business using ongoing flexible and remote arrangements. But COVID-19 forced this change. There was no option but to accept this and move on.

As leaders we need to be mindful of the environment we create and enable in our workplaces. We want and need our people – truly the biggest asset to any organisation – to feel comfortable in bringing their ‘whole-self’ to work.

An emerging challenge I see in the months and years ahead will be how business responds to the underlying mental health and wellbeing of employees. Collectively we have experienced a fundamental transition to how we work, live and play. The cognitive demand and load on people – as they juggle employment, caring needs, emotional needs – cannot be underestimated. In hand with that, as people grapple and recalibrate their view on what modern work and life now looks like, is the very real potential for safety incidents to occur, as a result of distraction, disengagement or fatigue.

Workplace safety and employee wellbeing are two sides to the same coin – one that leaders need to keep a firm grip on.

To read the final two leadership principles, check out the full blog on my LinkedIn article: Leadership for the longterm