Good leaders are always looking to improve. One good way to finesse your leadership skills is to catch up with the latest in leadership thinking. So, what lessons in leadership can we learn from the winners of this year’s U.K. Business Book Awards?
1. Know what you stand for
It’s time to break away from the “chronically imbalanced ways of thinking and functioning that have become the norm in so many corporate cultures,” says Nicholas Janni, author of Leader as Healer: A new paradigm for 21st-century leadership. His book won the Leadership category and was named Business Book of the Year 2023.
According to Janni, we inhabit a norm where “doing eclipses being, and hyper-rational, analytical thinking relegates feeling, sensing, intuiting and the transpersonal to the outer fringes of life”. This needs to change, however, if leaders are to successfully combat the challenges of 21st-century life.
Janni argues that today’s leaders must be empathic, grounded and intuitive. They must also be skilled in mindfulness and deep listening, receptive to higher levels of insight and innovation, and able to inspire authentic engagement and collaboration.
In addition, leaders should possess a clear and wholehearted sense of service, mission and purpose. This involves being able to answer essential questions such as these: Who am I as an individual? Who are we as an organization? What do I/we stand for and what do I/we stand against?
2. Adopt a “time-intelligent” approach
“Possibly the knottiest problem leaders face today is how to persuade people back into offices more frequently,” suggests Helen Beedham, author of The Future of Time: How ‘re-working’ time can help you boost productivity, diversity and wellbeing, winner of the People, Culture and Management category of the awards. “Telling people what you want is easy, but getting them to comply enthusiastically is far harder and opens a can of worms.”
Beedham recommends adopting a more ‘time-intelligent’ approach to leadership. This means being more attentive to how you, as a team, are spending your working hours and making more considered choices so that both individuals and the business reap a better return on investment on their time in the office.
“Identify the different types of work to be done and when you gain the most value from bringing people together,” advises Beedham. “This might be for creative, collaborative work, informal learning opportunities and social interactions and celebrations that foster connection. Co-develop some broad principles, then trust teams to figure out the detail. Accept that this will vary by function and employee demographic. Trial short-term changes, keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.”
3. Negotiate fearlessly
“We all feel nerves when entering negotiations, especially with highly-skilled counterparts,” says Richard Hoare, co-author of Do Deal: Negotiate better. Find hidden value. Enrich relationships, winner of the Short Business Book category.
Yet, negotiations shouldn’t be feared, says Hoare, but seen as an opportunity. This is because the most skillful negotiators often offer us a pathway to exceptional outcomes.
“We must bring our best selves to the negotiation table, engaging fully, and harnessing our skills to unlock hidden value,” advises Hoare. “By using these strategies, leaders can transform negotiation anxiety into an opportunity to enrich their business relationships and maximize mutual gains.”
4. Be a purple ally
A purple ally or champion is someone who believes that disabled people should experience full equality in the workplace. Leaders who are not purple allies are potentially missing out on being able to harness the skills of a talented group of people.
“Being a purple ally can be one of the most rewarding aspects of work,” says Kate Nash, author of Positively Purple: Build an Inclusive World Where People with Disabilities Can Flourish, which won the Diversity, Inclusion and Equity category of the awards. “Playing a role in how the business anticipates, accommodates and celebrates disabled talent means you get the chance to build a better and more accessible working world for employees with disabilities.”
So how can leaders become a purple ally? “Assume you know nothing – or at least very little,” advises Nash. “Learn directly from people with disabilities themselves. Ask questions, be inquisitive. Be responsible for your own learning and go to easy places to understand the politics of disability, be that reading, podcasts or TED Talks.
Nash believes leaders should be vocal and engaged around disability. They could join their organization’s disability network, if one exists, or share their own stories of what they’ve learned as a disability ally. “Don’t be a bystander,” she says. “If you see or hear something that isn’t right, then challenge it. Don’t assume someone with a disability will do it because they may not feel able or comfortable to.”
Finally, says Nash, remember, it’s human to get things wrong. “One of the greatest challenges for our allies can be the fear of getting it wrong, especially around language. The best thing to do is apologize, learn and try again.”
5. Share your personal story
“In today’s noisy, digital, AI-powered world, only the leaders who are engaging their audiences on a deep emotional level will win,” says Mark Leruste, author of Glow in the Dark: How Sharing Your Personal Story Can Transform Your Business and Change Your Life, which won the Business Self-Development category. “So, if you want to connect with your audience, build trust and inspire action, you need to leverage your unique story and learn how to share it in an authentic, captivating and powerful way, so people connect with it on a deep emotional level and feel compelled to share on your behalf.”
If you’re scared of feeling “exposed” at work, Leruste has good news for you. “Giving yourself permission to be imperfect in public makes you more influential,” he says. “Every leader has an obligation to use their platform, position and influence to make the world better, so why not start with sharing your story and get people excited about what you have to say, share or sell?”
6. Make better choices, starting from today
“You are the greatest project you will ever get to work on,” says Simon Alexander Ong, author of Energize: Make the Most of Every Moment, winner of the Wellness and Wellbeing category. “So, make time for pursuing those things that spark a light in you and make you come alive. You will live a better story by doing so.”
Ong says it’s vital to be patient, because it often takes years before you arrive at that one year that will transform your life forever. “You are going to face many challenges ahead,” he says, “but when you understand how to awaken, protect and nurture your personal energy, you will possess the wisdom to unearth the lessons behind every single one of them so that you may come back stronger.”
One day, when you’re looking back on life, you are going to wish that you had done things differently, according to Ong. But if you commit to making better choices from today, choices that will unlock sources of energy – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – then you will put yourself on the path towards fulfilment. He adds: “You will also live a better story and it will be this story that will energize others and become your legacy.”
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