By Paul Unwin, Smart Motorways Regional Sponsor, Highways England

The views expressed in this piece are his own personal observations.   

Have you given thought recently to the type of leadership behaviours you are demonstrating? If the answer to that question is not a firm ‘yes’, it’s useful to take time out to reflect on how you are coming across, what behaviours you are demonstrating and just how effective, relevant and most of all, how authentic your leadership approach is. Examples of leadership are all around us, but we are not always consciously aware of them. By being open and aware of different ways of leading, we can really understand how and why people operate the way we do when we see an example that chimes with us.

I think about Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the leadership approach she adopted recently in commenting on the devastating terrorist attack with such grace, humility and authority in an effort to rebuild a broken community. Then there’s England Football Manager Gareth Southgate’s manner and approach in media interviews on how he is building a young team into a high performing unit that can rely on each other. Both Ardern and Southgate exemplify a people-centric approach, which in my experience makes them relatable to those around them and positions them as leaders who can be trusted.

We should recognise that leadership is not a static state and that our approach will develop and mature over time. We must also accept that employee expectations from the workplace are changing too. We should not only be mindful, but become active advocates and agents for positive change in line with the thinking of the times. As leaders, at all levels in the organisation, it is our role to challenge and ask ‘why?’. In favour of diversity and inclusion and flexible working. If we are truly serious about wellbeing and the mental health of ourselves and our people, we should challenge cultures that promote and celebrate long working hours. Our people look to us to call it out. It is unsustainable and a major cause of stress related poor mental health.

If we are not taking the lead to challenge common workplace issues, we will not attract or retain the best talent who will grow into our future leaders. If we are managing today the same way as we were 10 years ago, then it’s probably time for that personal review. 

Whatever approach we take, we need to be authentic and strive to build positive leadership behaviours and capabilities in others through opening opportunities and giving constructive encouragement. For new leaders reading this, think about the leadership style you want to aspire to.  The leaders I admire in my career have been those that give considered and wise counsel.

To wrap this up, one exercise we can carry out is to think about how we can best describe our leadership style in three words. Try it. It’s actually harder than you think to distil into such a small number. For me they are; Encouraging, Positive and Non-judgmental. I’d be interested to hear of yours, so please drop me a line on LinkedIn and share this blog, you may just be encouraging someone who really needs it right now.

Don’t forget that we can help ourselves too by investigating our own preferred approaches to leadership, and a good start is to understand our own personal profiles. There are quite few personality profiling models out there such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator or Discovery Insights, many of which can be accessed for free - so take a look.

Read the other articles in our leadership series

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