Good leadership lies at the heart of any successful organisation, but not every business knows how to foster the sort of leaders who can innovate and bring out the best in their team. According to Stefano Di Lollo, Vice President of Leadership Development and Innovation at Papillon MDC Inc., “often, leaders end up in their positions of leadership, not necessarily because they displayed the skills that one would associate with a great leader, but rather because they were really great problem solvers or really great experts at what they do, and so, of course, they move up the corporate ladder.”
As a result, many newly appointed leaders find themselves in positions of authority without the right tools or knowledge to fulfil their responsibilities. Luckily, for those with the right aptitudes, leadership skills can be honed over time. “It’s like running a marathon,” explains Di Lollo. “You don’t get up one morning and start running a marathon. You have to start somewhere.” To that end, he lays out five steps to becoming a successful leader.
1. Listen actively
When talking about leadership, one cliché that often comes up is, “Listen more than you speak.” What the phrase leaves out is how much impact the way you listen has on your team. Active listening involves paying close attention to the conversation without interrupting. It means taking active steps to draw out important details and repeat information to ensure that you understood properly.
“How we listen is something we take for granted, often because we’ve had no formal training,” explains Di Lollo, “[yet] it defines what we convey to people: what we’re actually listening for, what we’re thinking about, and how we identify situations.” Ultimately, active listening makes us better communicators and better decision-makers.
2. Ask powerful questions
What questions you ask your team matters as much as how actively you listen to their answers. In fact, the two go hand in hand. Instead of asking employees to solve specific problems, Di Lollo recommends that you get your team to think in new and unconventional ways. The goal is to foster creativity and innovation so that your organization can expand.
“We’re really great at solving problems, and we like to shout out the answers, but rather I say focus on asking such powerful questions that it’ll stimulate intellectual sparring,” says Di Lollo. “And it’s important to really walk away from a conversation having left an impact on that person. A conversation should be productive, but it should also leave an impact.”
3. Identify leadership behaviors
Leadership development isn’t just about the individuals with management positions or titles. According to Di Lollo, every person has the potential to develop into an incredible leader, and it’s by having a team of leaders together in one space that an organization can truly prosper: “When we picture a leader, we picture that soloist at the front, leading the crowd. And if we really look at history, most great achievements were actually rarely the work of a soloist but really the work of a collective.”
This is where behavioral assessment models like the SuccessFinder Ladder of Leadership become an important tool, because identifying behaviors that lead to a great leadership culture is key. “We’re often really great at identifying what’s not working,” explains Di Lollo, “but we forget that we should also be identifying what is working and what is working so well that we need to have this insight [and] educate everybody around us.
4. Develop your self-awareness
Another aspect of leadership development that can be enhanced with predictive behavioral data is self-awareness. As a leader, you always need to make sure that what you say is congruent with how you behave. This can be challenging because our actions are often motivated by unconscious biases, so it becomes crucial that you know yourself.
As Di Lollo succinctly puts it, “If you’re going to lead other people, you should know where you’re coming from.” As such, the certified coaching expert advises that you become aware of yourself and identify how you may be triggered, what is important to you, and how your core values and beliefs tend to sway you in different directions.
5. Tie it all together
The final step is to tie all these aspects of leadership together so that you can practice them consistently. Di Lollo provides an example: “Sometimes, people are like, ‘How can I ask better questions?’ And so, in order to ask better questions, you have to actually go back to the active listening and [ask yourself] what kind of information were you listening for, does this align with our leadership behaviors, and then […] what’s my intention for that conversation?”
According to Di Lollo, this step is about checking in with yourself regularly. He explains: “What I’m really after in this moment is, what’s my mindset? Am I stepping in as a manager in this moment? Am I stepping in as a mentor, or am I actually stepping in as a coach and leader? These are the kinds of things that we need to consider daily.”
A team of leaders
Ultimately, being a good leader is about developing leadership in others. “To me, a great leader, if I’m going to narrow it down to one sentence, is a leader that knows exactly how to create other leaders surrounding him or her […] someone that really is able to see someone and detect potential for growth and development rather than just their expertise, the technical things that they’re good at that,” says Di Lollo. “When I think of leadership development, I think that this is what every organization should be striving for from every individual, not just the individuals who have positions or titles.”
With the right tools and data at your disposal, you can develop not just a few worthy decision-makers but entire teams of outstanding leaders to drive your organisation’s success. As Di Lollo puts it, “When you have incredible leaders together in one space, well, then you have a great thing because now you have a team of leaders, and […] I have yet to find an organization that has told me that having a team of leaders has not been a positive thing for them.”