Leadership. It’s a topic that’s dear to me. It’s all over the internet. It’s trendy. There are inspirational examples of it all around.
And yet, being an excellent leader isn’t something that’s easy to learn.
Which is why I wanted to speak with leadership expert Minter Dial, “an enjoyer of the messiness of life”. He’s a storyteller who’s on a mission to elevate the debate and connect the dots between ideas and people.
For Minter, reality is all about accepting the imperfections.
“Putting your hands in the dirt and the mud is part of life as well,” he explains. “And so, when it’s all about being dainty and perfect and clean and performing, you may succeed for a while. But one day the Piper will come to call…”
Here are some takeaways from our conversation – all about how to become a better leader by working on yourself – which you can listen to in full on my People&Digital podcast.
Leadership has always been important, says Minter, but what has not changed – to some degree – is that people are still very unhappy at work. Some 70% of people described being disengaged. And there’s a lot of averageness out there.
We’ve seen during the pandemic that there’s a complete lack of energy in so many people, including leaders. And that needs to change.
You can’t just copy-paste ideas and get best practices when becoming a better leader. Everything is different: the context, the governance models you’re operating in. If you’re a leader in a huge organisation, or you’re in a startup, there are differences you need to take into consideration.
The key thing is to think about what business you’re in. And once you have a good grip on that, decide what product and service you can provide to the clients and how you’re going to do that.
You need to make sure your employees are experiencing what they’re going to be delivering to the customer in some fashion, says Minter. Think through employee-first customer centricity – that’s the key concept.
Imagine what you want to do – you have key core customers, get your segmenting, get all that organised – but then think about how you’re going to be congruent in the way you treat your employees and how they then are at the service of your customers.
Ultimately, being at service is a great way for a leader to be.
There’s nothing more irksome than to tell everybody else to change but not do it yourself. One of the big things leaders need to do is to be more self-aware. And by being more self-aware, says Minter, a few things happen.
First of all, understand that you’re not perfect. Second of all, realise that you don’t know everything and that you need the others (in your team).
The other thing that becomes interesting when you’re more self-aware is that perhaps you’ll also identify when you’re not being appropriate with other people, which helps you to improve your leadership skills.
When it comes to choosing which channel or elements you want to change, have a strong idea of what your “north” is, Minter explains. And that can happen at an individual level. Who are you and what do you want to be known for as an individual, as a leader?
Once you dial into that idea, when options and opportunities come around it becomes a little easier because you can relate everything to your “north” or not.
Figure out what is the purpose of your team’s work. Because, once you get to that purpose, people know why they’re going to work. (Or, you know, going from the bed to the desk these days…).
So, when you get into that space where what you’re doing is important, it’s not just about satisfying shareholders. You have to perform. But when you’re doing things that feel more important – that you’re at the service of a bigger issue – then people will jump out of bed and give a higher energy.
And that’s when you start ending up with superior customer experience, because you’ve got more people excited together on the same strategy to deliver something that’s bigger than just satisfying earnings per share at the end of the quarter.
We’re not in a dichotomy, says Minter, who explains that if you have to mask your personality all the time at work then you start to lose the sense of who you truly are as a person.
In the 1850s, Karl Marx wrote about the alienation of the individual at work and there’s so much of that going on today. You’re doing work for somebody else on a product that’s not for you. The benefits don’t go to you and you become distanced from who you are. And when you have that going on the whole time, well it’s inevitable that you get burnout. You start to wonder “Why the hell am I doing this bloody work for this A-hole who’s my boss, for shareholders who I don’t know, to sell products to clients I’m never in touch with, products I don’t even like in the first place!”
To hear more of Minter’s advice on life and leadership, listen to the podcast episode we recorded in full.
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