The last 2 years have seen us rethink and recalibrate many of our assumptions about what was good people practice. We’ve seen ‘the Great Resignation’ happen in many markets, we reconsidered the overwhelming importance of company culture, and we’ve definitely reflected upon what great leadership looks like—and this last insight is where I wanted to focus.
None of these stories are embellished in any way because there’s no need to. This reflects my exact experience and there are no names, dates or companies mentioned.
I’ve been incredibly lucky throughout my career, to work for leaders who have inspired me, challenged me and created an environment for me to learn from them along the way. I’ve also had moments where for me, the leadership behaviors I experienced were not very inspiring—and to be honest I learned perhaps even more from those moments (that’s a follow-up piece I’m happy to write if anyone is interested.)
So, without further ado, here are 3 key lessons learned about ‘Great Leadership’ from my own career:
The Great Lessons:
1. ‘It’s the little things that matter’: When I did my first proper expat assignment many years ago, family in tow, moving to a new continent, my skip manager (the CHRO) made a few seemingly small gestures that made an enormous impact on my family and me.
Upon arriving to our hotel in the first days of our move, an incredibly generous welcome package awaited us including a dozen roses for my wife, some goodies for my children—thanking her and offering any support needed to ensure a smooth transition. There was email correspondence that followed from this executive reinforcing the company’s commitment to ensuring a great overall experience for my family.
"Leadership in this postpandemic era can be incredibly challenging and tiresome, but also incredibly rewarding"
I have tried to remind myself ongoing are there these gestures I can make that also make a difference for my team. They don’t need to be big, just deliberate, genuine and thoughtful.
2) ‘Surround yourself with people different from you, and listen to them’: Years ago, I had the pleasure to work for a leader who couldn’t be more different than me. They were all about numbers, I’m rubbish with numbers. They were bold and challenging to executives, (and at least at that point) I was hesitant to challenge senior leaders. They embraced healthy conflict, and I mostly avoided it
This leader however showed me the magic and value of Inclusion & Diversity before it was on every organization’s agenda. Bring those diverse perspectives together in your team, but you must genuinely listen to them. This has served me well over the years and the business case for this approach is now incredibly compelling.
3) ‘A Moment of Truth…I made a mistake’: Some years ago, due to an honest misunderstanding with a very senior stakeholder, I missed out on following up with a project I was expected to be working on.
The feedback I received was immediate, tough and warranted. I immediately sought out my line manager at this global HR meeting and explained what happened—the back and forth has stuck with me ever since:
Me: I need to let you know I made a mistake – I have jeopardized
my relationship with a key senior stakeholder.
Leader: What did you do?
Me: I apologized, owned the mistake and clarified what I can do to make it right.
Leader: And you agreed on next steps and how to sort it?
Me: Yes. Leader: What did you learn?
Me: I learned if there is any ambiguity in next steps, especially with senior stakeholders always ensure we have 100 percent alignment so there are no misunderstandings.
Leader: You just told me everything I need to know about you Berry…the most critical moments of truth in our careers are when we make mistakes (and I do too), but most importantly is what do we learn. You could have hidden this or covered it up but you came to me immediately. Well done.
I’ve since had my own team members misstep (we all do) and followed a similar path which has been incredibly well-received.
Leadership in this post-pandemic era is so important, yet not for everyone. It can be incredibly challenging and tiresome, but also incredibly rewarding. If you are a leader, take a moment to acknowledge the little things, embrace diverse perspectives, and foster an environment of failing fast, and learning even faster. And don’t ever underestimate the longer-term impact you may be making on your team members.
Thank you to all of my past leaders who unknowingly contributed to this article.