"Be precise." That was my dad's favourite phrase when I was growing up. Though infuriating at the time, it's proved to be sound advice. No one ever died from too much clarity, but lots of us have suffered the lack of it. Whether you're leading a team, collaborating with colleagues or negotiating social relationships, clarity makes everything so much easier.
We often hear that inspiring others is a leadership essential. And yet, on its own, it’s not enough. The most effective (and inspiring) leaders I’ve come across also enable. They embody what they seek in others, and show how it can be achieved. In doing so, they help colleagues take their inspiration and turn it into action.
A few building blocks can help all of us be both inspiring and enabling leaders – particularly when experimenting or leading change. I’ve shared my top five below.
I have a confession: I’ve finally succumbed to BBC1’s The Voice. I blame the chairs. They’re huge, they light up, and they swivel on demand.
Though clearly thrilled to be picked via a revolving chair, the real draw for the contestants is superstar coaching. The chance for expert leadership from people who’ve been there, done it. And kept doing it.
Fervent aspiration with world-class authority is a compelling mix. The judges clearly know their stuff. But the big question is whether they can empower their teams to achieve the same. Essentially: will they be inspirational leaders?
Each coach has a different style, but it’s Sir Tom Jones that I’ve been watching closely. He knows his experience is an effective selling point. And barely a moment passes without another “starry collaboration” anecdote. (While we all wonder if there’s anyone he hasn’t sung with…)
Last week Sir Tom demonstrated what he's learned about leadership during all those years at the top. That it’s not enough to tell; you must also show. You must lead by example. By doing just that, he transformed his team’s uncertain, lacklustre delivery into a passionate, meaningful performance. Something had suddenly ‘clicked’, within just a few minutes.
One of my criticisms of the show until now has been that we've rarely seen the coaches up on stage. There’s something incredibly powerful about demonstrating excellence in the moment, rather than relying on previous success. Executed consistently, it creates clarity of purpose, avoids misunderstandings, and inspires observers.
Sir Tom seems to know that. Perhaps it's something he learned from all those musicians who inspired him. Either way, leading by example – modelling attitudes, behaviours and practice – is a powerful tool. And that’s the case whether you’re in front of six people or 6.95 million.
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