Leadership and followership
Leadership and followership

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Leadership and followership

1 Challenges for modern leaders

The role of leader is not an easy one. They must juggle and prioritise many complex responsibilities, while continuing to support, motivate and represent their staff. While many leaders thrive on the variety, it can also be challenging.

Described image
Figure 1 There are many challenges for modern leaders.

Gentry et al. (2016) asked over 700 middle- and executive-level leaders from China, Egypt, India, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US, ‘What are the three most critical leadership challenges you are currently facing?’.

Activity 1 Three most critical leadership challenges

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

What are the three most critical leadership challenges you or your leaders currently face? List them in the box below:

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Discussion

Did you choose challenges that predominantly involved interacting with your team? Did you look externally? Or did you focus on your own skill development needs? Read on below to find out the top six responses from the report.

The top six responses to Gentry’s question were:

  1. Developing managerial effectiveness, for example, time management, strategic thinking, decision making
  2. Inspiring others
  3. Developing employees
  4. Leading a team
  5. Guiding change
  6. Managing internal stakeholders and politics.

In response to these issues, they make several recommendations:

  • Goal-setting is important – be proactive in setting goals, and the timelines and deadlines required.
  • Delegate more – this can make you more productive and can also empower the people to whom you have given work.
  • Work on tasks that maximize your unique value-add – among all the organisational priorities, there will always be important tasks that only you can do. These are the tasks on which you should focus. As a result, you will maximize your specific value to the organisation. Everything else, try to delegate.
  • Gain some role clarity – understand what your work does and does not entail. With that, you may have to practise and be comfortable saying ‘no’.

In the following sections, you’ll focus on points two to six, as you’ve already taken some time to consider your leadership skills in Week 3.

Before you look in more detail at each issue, reflect on your own experience of these challenges.

Activity 2 Personal leadership challenges

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Reflect on your experiences of leadership challenge, either as the leader or as an observer. Choose one example from Gentry’s work to consider in more detail. Summarise the challenge/situation in the box below.

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Now answer these questions:

What actions did the leader take?

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What actions did others take?

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What was the outcome?

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Discussion

By reflecting on your own times of challenge or crisis and considering your actions, you can gain an insight into your own methods and assess whether you need to change them. Use your leadership journal to do this regularly.

If you were reflecting on the actions of a leader you observed, you can learn from their strengths and weaknesses and apply what you have learned to your own leadership practice either now or in the future.

Drawing from her experience of working with many high-profile leaders, from elected politicians to civic activists and other public and private sector professionals, Professor Jean Hartley shares her own impressions of common leadership challenges.

Download this video clip.Video player: lf_1_video_week6_hartley_a.mp4
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Transcript

JEAN HARTLEY:
One of the key challenges is to be clear about what is the purpose or task of your leadership. Now that may seem a bit strange, because surely, your task or your purpose is quite clear. And it may be specified in your job description or your own boss may have made it very clear about what it is you should be doing. But still, I think, a major challenge. And you see it particularly in experienced leaders. Is to take some time to really think about have I framed that in exactly the right way? Have I broken down the tasks appropriately? Have I missed something important about purpose?
So really thinking about that, and reflecting on it carefully and continuously and critically can be really important.
The second thing, I think in terms of leadership challenge, is trying to make sure that you match your leadership style or perhaps more broadly, your leadership approach, to the context that you're in and the kind of people that you're working with, and the kind of outcomes that you're trying to achieve.
I work quite a lot with the police, for example. And you see, particularly senior police, really reflecting on, is this a situation in which I need to use command and control? Because it's a public order situation or it's an emergency or people's lives are in danger. Or is it a situation where we're trying to tackle a new problem of people's safety in society. And I really need to draw in all of my team, and get them really problem solving. So thinking of a very different leadership style in that situation.
So really, I guess, the second challenge is thinking about, what's the best way to approach this? And what kind of style or what kind of approach? Is it something where we really aren't quite clear what the situation is? We need all the good brains that we can on this situation. Or skills or expertise.
Or is it something where we've done this before? We know how it's done. My job is to make sure it's done on time, to high quality, with people feeling fulfilled and happy as they do their work.
Another challenge I want to bring up is the idea of maintaining grace under pressure. It's a lovely phrase. And it communicates the idea that, even when things are going pear shaped, even when you're feeling quite stressed, even when you're under attack, perhaps from colleagues or from a boss or from the media, whatever it is, part of your job as a leader is to stay calm. And to operate with good grace.
Now that doesn't mean to say you act like an automaton. You may have quite strong feelings about the situation. But leaders I've talked to would say sometimes they have to bite their lip. And just keep maintaining good humour, being respectful, being polite, communicating what it is they want to say, and coming across as a leader who can cope in difficult situations.
We all know that when a leader has lost their temper or they get an edge in their voice or they snap at somebody, then that leader has lost it to some extent. And so this ability to maintain a calm, good humoured sense of grace is invaluable.
End transcript
 
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In the next section, you’ll look more closely at building and leading an effective team – a key challenge for many leaders.

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