Interview No.1: Leadership
Questions for Paul Hodgkins
Q1.How do you succeed in being a good leader?
I’m not sure there is a ‘best way’ to succeed in being a good leader; rather it’s all about finding the ‘best way’ that works for you and that must always begin with being yourself. Authenticity in leadership is everything; without it you will most likely find you are ‘dressed for the wrong occasion’ and if you try to be something you are not, your teams and the people you work alongside will see ‘right through’ your charade. So, one way to succeed in being a good leader, is simply to be the best at being yourself. It is also important to recognize and remember that leadership cannot be ‘given’, it must be earned and that simply being given the title ‘leader’ does not mean you should expect to be respected or trusted as the leader. I believe you earn respect and trust by being true to yourself, being true and fair with others when setting your vision and goals and in making sure that your words spoken and actions intended are always in line with the actions you took and the behaviors you displayed.
Q2. Where did you demonstrate leadership in your career?
As the saying goes, leadership is not about having a position or title, it’s about action and example and we all therefore in my view, have the ability to lead. I would say that I’ve always tried to display leadership attributes throughout my career, irrespective of my job, its organizational hierarchy or even whether I was a graduate trainee, a project manager or an executive director. I believe that whilst many characteristics, attributes and traits go in to demonstrating leadership, it ultimately comes down to the ability we have to influence someone else. If we can influence someone else, even if only for a moment in time, we can affect their attitude and if we can affect their attitude, then we can influence their behaviors. If we influence their behaviors, then we are leading and it is up to us therefore, whether we choose to make our influence affect people positively or negatively – the amount of effort required to do so is the same and so, we should always choose wisely and positively!
Q3. What are your tips for future leaders?
The world of our projects – and indeed life itself – is becoming (or at least seems to be becoming), more challenging, complicated and complex. The only certainty is uncertainty and in a world of constant change and emergent risks, we must accept that fluidity itself is too rigid! I think leaders not only of the future but also now, have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, be certain about the uncertain and recognize that adaptability to change and anticipation of emergent risks are going to be the ‘anchor’ from which all other leadership attributes will be grounded. My tips for a future leader therefore would be to find ways that work for you that allow you to deal effectively with these factors, whilst at the same time never losing belief or confidence in your ability to create calm and certainty amongst your team and your stakeholders. When everything around you is uncertain and changing, the one thing that must be certain and fixed is you, and your ability to deal with, manage and lead through change and uncertainty.
Q4.What is the most challenging situation that you faced while leading other people?
Good question! There have been many challenging situations I’ve faced, not necessarily because the situation itself or the people I was leading were particularly challenging, but because I myself was not equipped to deal with those challenges or did not make time enough for the people I was leading. Therefore, when faced with challenging situations when leading others, always recognize those challenges as an opportunity to learn something about yourself that you can improve to make the next challenge, slightly less challenging! And the good news is, you then only have to depend on yourself to improve! I think one ‘key’ when leading other people is to be clear about your goals and why they are important in the broader context of the project and its vision. Another ‘key’ is to have empathy with each individual as an individual, and to understand their personal goals, aspirations and values. If you can then explain how the goals, aspirations and values of the project can be supported by the personal goals, aspirations and values of the team member, I have found many challenges can be overcome – or indeed, never materialize; not because of ‘you’ as the leader necessarily, but because of ‘them’ and their desire and motivation to help each other, themselves and you to do so.
Q5. What´s not shown in the textbooks and are your personal secrets of successful leadership?
One I’ve already mentioned and that is to be the best at being you; to be authentic. Others include always be honest in your dealings with others, integrity and trust as a leader are everything and it is always better to be slapped with the truth, than be kissed with a lie! It’s important to know as a leader, that you cannot be expected to know every answer to every question. It’s not a sign of weakness to say ‘I don’t know’ and to ‘pass the ball’ to someone, who whilst may not be ‘called the leader’, is better placed than you to lead on that particular issue or challenge; to me, to do so, is a sign of strength. Also it’s important to remember your role as a leader and in displaying leadership attributes is to create more leaders and as someone once said to me; “show the way, lead the way and then get out of the way!” I’ve mentioned this before, but I think what is not shown in the text books is the importance of time and how that dimension can change people’s views, opinions and perspectives on the same topics. We always have time to do the things we do first, and so it’s important to keep a constant and open dialogue with your team members and to understand, have ‘they’ changed and if so, what do I now need to change in the way I interact with them and lead them. And finally, as a good friend reminded me not so long ago and which I believe can be applied to all we do in life as we do in leadership; “be passionate about what you do and if you are not passionate about what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it!”.