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  • Phil Marsland

Are you failing the leadership test?


On Record Store Day this year I was with my good friend Dean Horsman, searching York for new vinyl – a one off day when we looked for sweet sounds to stir our emotions. My cacophonous classic and hard rock tunes hit the groove for me, but may sound awful to you.


Dean has different musical tastes to me, but we connect because there is an overlap and we share an appreciation of music generally along with our professional interest in people and leadership.


At this point I’m not going to ask you about your musical taste – if you like Arianna, Rihanna or Post Malone – that’s up to you, and I’m happy for you!


But I am going to ask you about the noise that surrounds you every day as a leader. Can you hear this noise, or feedback that is there all the time. Or like feedback from a guitar amp does it grate on your senses so that you instantly shut it down?


Put another way, do you only hear what you want to hear, and tune out the unpleasant? Is feedback welcome or are you only interested in business results? Is that all that matters? Do you not care how you get there, just so long as you do? Do you only hang on to events and results that support your world view, pushing aside everything else.


Now at this point I expect many to point (in a deflective manner) to their engagement survey. That loaded and skewed once a year form filling exercise, where people judge what they are brave enough to commit to paper, electronic or otherwise.


I’m not talking about surveys. My leadership test is knowing exactly what is required from you, right now, for your organisation, from you. And then applying this, and using feedback to adjust – constantly. Because in reality you do get feedback all the time, in every interaction, in every email and its language, in all your interpersonal interactions. Are you picking up on all these subtleties, subtleties that could be really valuable to you and your business. Or are you pushing them aside?


Do you only want to hear people that agree with you? Parrot back your language, in search of favour and advancement? Does everyone have to think, speak and act like you? Do you value a complimentary and aligned diversity of thought and ideas? Do you genuinely believe that no one is as smart as all of us?


Going a little deeper, do you even think of yourself as a leader? What does that mean to you? Are you clear on what are your leadership actions, and your competence? Or are you an operational manager?


Even deeper than that, and linked to this aligned diversity of thought, are you encouraging ownership and leadership at all levels in your organisation, or are you being a big roadblock, with everything having to funnel through you? No important decisions made without trotting to your door? This route makes everyone feel bad. You will be overloaded and frustrated, your people will be disenfranchised and tuned out. Not giving their all, but instead giving just what they think you want.


Now this may all sound like nails on a blackboard to you. Or it may be sweet sounding confirmation that you’re on the right track.


Either way I hope that you can hear the right notes.

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