Steve Radcliffe is one of the top leadership experts in Europe and the author of Leadership Plain and Simple published by the Financial Times in 2012. Over the last three years his work has become the number one book on Amazon UK among 80,000 other manuals on the subjects.
Why was it so well accepted? Well, Radcliffe explains leadership plainly and simply, literally. “Having been coaching on leadership for over 20 years it dawned on me one day that the industry was making the topic overcomplicated. It was difficult for people in all walks of life to quickly grasp the key fundamentals of leading and practise them.”
He thought it was the time to put complex models and theories aside but encourage more action. “So, one day I went home and started thinking about how to describe leadership in a very simple way. I stood back from the over 200 books that I had read. I stood back from all the years of being a coach, and just asked myself: ‘What are the basic principles of leadership that everybody can easily understand and put into action?'”
Future, Engage, Deliver
The answer is summarised in FED – Future, Engage, Deliver.
First of all, “leading starts in the future. It is about getting a clear picture of where you want to go and what you want to create.”
“The second aspect is helping people want to come with you and build that future. The word for that is ‘engage‘.”
Radcliffe saw many leaders stopping at this stage thinking that they were doing a very good job. But, “a leader hasn’t done a good job until she has met the third building block, which is about having that future accomplished.” The word here is ‘deliver‘. In summary, it is about taking action and getting results.
This very simple model has been welcomed by thousands of people, and described by The London Times as “the no-nonsense approach…shaking up the world of leadership.”
Leading through social media
Radcliffe believes that experimenting with social media and the possibilities of new digital communications can be helpful in the space of leading and engaging.
However, he also thinks that using them is only one part of the bigger pie. “Don’t do that as the only game in town. The thing that really matters is what you, as a leader, are doing personally to build relationships, involve people and make them feel valued and safe around you.
“If you can do that through social media, absolutely fine. Ultimately, engaging someone always happens in your relationship with him or her. Be clear on which is the tail and which is the dog.”
Killing an old story
If there is something that Radcliffe likes about social networks is the potential of killing an old story that he believes is holding back the wider development of leadership.
“I am talking about the idea that leadership is found just at the top of an organisation; the view that people who get there are somehow a bit different, or special, or might have gone to the right school, and have all the correct answers.”
He proposes a new narrative instead. “Leadership is about helping to create possibilities. You don’t need a title or a position to do that. Social media has demonstrated this brilliantly in the last few years. And we need more of it. “We need human beings from everywhere saying ‘I can make a difference. Even without having people reporting to me or the right title, I still can exercise leadership’.”
The importance of language…and beyond
Through FED Radcliffe is helping leaders to adopt clear communications across the organisation. For example, this happened with Boots a few years ago. “Wording around Future, Engage, and Deliver became the common language used by their leadership. As a result, internal communications were far more efficient. People were faster at getting at the heart of the matter.”
However, he likes to emphasise a key distinction between just communicating and constantly practicing engagement. “I am not encouraging leaders to only be a good communicator. I am helping them to bring their people with them along the journey. That goes beyond talking.”
For that to happen, two things need to put into place. “Speak of the future in a way that create possibilities for others. But, also work on being engaging yourself, and being someone who others want to follow.”
Don’t bring in just your technical expertise
Radcliffe likes to cite a study by DDI conducted 18 months ago. The survey involved senior and middle managers across the globe, asking them how well led was their organisation.
Only 38% of respondents said that their company was very well led.
“The terrible thing is that the topic of leadership has been around for thousands of years. We have had plenty of time to think and write about it. Surely, this is not a new subject. But, when it comes to practising it well, we only get it right in 38% of situations. Why is this?”
Part of Radcliffe’s answer sits on one of his mantras to people who want to lead: “Please, don’t bring just your technical expertise. Bring your ability to build relationships, empower people and involve them in building the future together.”
What he means is that many individuals reach high positions inside a company because of excellent technical skills. But often that is not enough. “They may be incredibly good in IT or Marketing of Finance, and so on. Yet, when arriving at senior level positions, the majority of them do not apply the same willingness to learn about leading. Not as much as they had applied themselves to become very good at their own discipline.”
He thinks that a step change is needed in the awareness of people in senior positions. The same applies to the leadership industry: “they also have to make it easier for individuals to quickly grasp what is involved in leading. That is why I wrote Leadership Plain and Simple.”