What defines a good business leader?

We take some lessons on leadership from Star Trek

IP image

If the turbulent politics of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that there are many different styles of leadership. Some more effective than others!

So how do you define good leadership? Bear with me for a moment while I travel down memory lane.

Star Trek and leadership

When I was young, I used to look forward to tuning in to BBC2 every week to watch Star Trek. At that time (the 1970s), this consisted of repeats of the original series, but these were later followed by Star Trek: The Next Generation and by the many other spin-offs.

As I followed each new reincarnation, one thing that stood out was the difference in leadership style between the original series (created in the 1960s) and The Next Generation (created in the 1990s). Disregarding any superficial similarities – we’re talking about the military crew of a ship here, so obviously a hierarchy and command structure existed in both – in many cases the style of leadership had changed significantly. Whereas in The Next Generation, for example, Captain Picard would often request suggestions from his bridge crew before making a decision, Kirk, the captain in the 1960s series, wouldn’t.

In one particular episode, Spock even reminded Kirk that he’d lose the trust – and command – of his crew if he were seen as vulnerable or perceived as less than perfect. Since all of the series are now available on Netflix, I decided to track down the episode to watch it again.

Throughout the episode, I noted that all the crew looked to Kirk for guidance, orders and decision-making. No recommendations were sought by him, but plenty of dilemmas were taken his way and he was expected to know the answers and to respond with the correct order. Although the episode was created in the 1960s, and although it was intended to represent a perfect future (including a perfect hierarchy of command), in reality it was the perfect representation of an outdated ideology.

Today, even in the military, this method of leadership has been recognised as ineffective. And yet it’s still applied in many businesses today.

A good leader is a cultivator

No one can know everything. If we tried, we’d simply sacrifice our strengths by focusing on making our weaknesses less weak. On the other hand, my team and I make things happen because we all have different strengths and play to them.

A good leader:

  • shares a vision that can inspire others
  • creates an environment where everyone can become the best they can be and play their part in helping that vision become a reality.

I like to think of a leader as more like a gardener. A gardener will develop a vision of what they want their garden to look like and the experience they want visitors to have of it. Next, they’ll put in the plants and flowers that will help that vision come true, water and feed them, and keep any weeds at bay that might damage them or prevent their vision from becoming a reality.

In short, they ensure that the environment for each plant and flower is exactly what it needs to flourish.

And people are exactly the same as those plants and flowers. People need to be in an environment where they’re encouraged to become the best they can be. One that has a genuine interest in them and that meets their needs.

If, despite this, they remain uninspired by your vision then they simply aren’t right for your team and you need to find people who are. Once you have, encourage them to use their initiative and judgement. Get your team to step up and allow them to make the decisions that ultimately fit with your values and beliefs.

If flowers and plants fail to flourish it’s usually because the gardener is either neglecting them or not sustaining the correct environment. Sometimes, of course, they’ve simply put in a plant designed for a different environment which now needs removing. If people aren’t performing, there’s a high chance their leader has fallen short in exactly the same areas.

Three essentials for creating the right environment

Three things are crucial to create the right environment:

  • Equality: Although this includes fair reward, fair conditions and fair attention, I’m focusing on fair attention here.

    Who do you spend most time on? We often take the best performers in our business for granted. Internally pleased that they’re doing a great job, we forget to tell them or to express the gratitude they deserve. Conversely, we often spend most time on the people who simply aren’t right for our business but, in our attempt to get them onboard and to do better, we simply demoralise the better performers. A good rule of thumb is: Great leaders hire slow and fire fast.

  • Camaraderie: A lack of camaraderie can inhibit performance. Create a buzz by setting goals that everyone is involved in. Be careful that they don’t cause your team to have tunnel vision and focus on achieving them at the expense of everything else. Carefully consider your goals, set milestones and create camaraderie in achieving them. Celebrate every win, together.

    In these days of hybrid working when your team may be scattered, it can be harder to build a sense of camaraderie. But it’s more important than ever to make sure that your people feel part of the team, whether they’re working from home or in the office.

  • Sense of achievement: Help each member of your team to develop a sense of achievement. Is their workload realistic? Do they finish the day feeling they’ve achieved something or that they’re only halfway through an impossible list of jobs? The latter will lead to stress and an ever-increasing list of things they need to catch up on. I often find that members of my team take on too much. In fact, I have to convince them to edit their lists down to the most important items so they feel they’re achieving what they need to. Deciding what’s most important and feeling comfortable with eliminating what isn’t can be difficult to do alone.

Spend quality time with all your team. Make sure you understand them as individuals and learn about their strengths and motivations (you might be surprised at how rarely these are financial). Work with them to help them play to their strengths and to create an environment that motivates them.

Together, this will help to create a high-performance environment that will inevitably take your accountancy business closer to your vision. Your job – as leader – is to be the gardener who works to ensure the environment is the best you can make it.

Shane Lukas – AVN for Accountants

At the AVN Practice Growth Masterclass I share more strategies on being a good leader and building an accountancy practice where everyone can flourish.