Lessons from Steve Radcliffe’s ‘Leadership Plain and Simple’

In his inspiring book, Steve Radcliffe simplifies the principles of leadership into three simple concepts: Future, Engage and Deliver. Here are my top learnings from the best book I have read on the subject.

1. The best leaders have a clear vision of the future they want, and are guided by it daily.
“If there is only one idea you take from this book, my request is that you make it this one. Leadership is not about your competencies, skills and personality. It’s first and foremost about being in touch with what you care about and then going for it.”

2. The first question to ask yourself is ‘What do you care about?’ What matters to you, what’s important to you, what your value most or what you have most passion for. You can only be a great leader for things you care about. If the answer doesn’t give you an energy boost, by tapping into your energy of passion, pride and possibility, you haven’t got to the real issue yet.

3. The second question is ‘What do you want to lead for?’ to work out what you want to actually make happen that relates to what you care about. For many, this will open up exciting possibilities, others may want to consider a coaching session to provide the right questions to come up with a compelling vision that excites them as well as their significant others. Until you get to that point of commitment, hesitancy and ineffectiveness are always in the background.

It makes sense that to communicate as an authentic leader, you have to find themes that resonate personally with you.

4. Use your answers to the questions above to give you a powerful lens through which to consider current reality. Compare what exists now with how you want it to be. How big is the gap between the two? What’s missing from today or last week that you want to see in the future? Where do you need to work to move fastest to the future you want, starting today?

5. Use your vision to give you clarity and the power to bounce back on bad days. When you are beset with limiting beliefs, or are feeling powerless, trapped or ineffective, think about what you are like at your best, as Radcliffe says ‘when you’re being just who you want to be’ and write it down, leaving no room for modesty. ‘Imagine if you were that way now, what you would do, how you would feel, how you would speak. Allow yourself to be uplifted by being connected to who you are when you’re at your best…This is one of the most powerful practices I can suggest to you’.

6. Radcliffe points out that not enough people realise the fundamental difference between engage and communicate or tell. He quotes Neil Tichy: ‘Leaders focus on how they make people feel after each interaction’ (my italics).
Think of the characteristics of people you’ve been engaged by, or how you are at your engaging best and practice them authentically. They may well include enthusiasm, listening to opinions, a hook or a point of interest for the individual being addressed, and a request to do something.

7. Radcliffe separates the different aspects to engaging. It starts with Relationships which have to be strong enough to get the job done. You will be most engaging ‘if people feel listened to by you, feel that their opinion matters to you, believe that you actively want them involved and get acknowledged by you’. He quotes Dick Brown: ‘Leaders get the behaviour they exhibit and tolerate’
8. Possibilities are next on the agenda, and the single best way to share your vision in a way that sparks possibilities in others is by co-invention – rather than presenting them with the logical solutions, invite them to co-invent the possibilities and build their sense of ownership.

Relationships and possibilities dictate whether engagement stands or fails. It is then honed by agreement on the specific opportunities and priorities to be concentrated on.
The final prerequisite is for the leader to deliver big requests of others to elicit promises to take action. It is important to be crystal clear on what you want, or if not, invite others in to co-invent it. And it’s easy to be clear on what you want but miss whether everybody else is, so check!

9 The key issue on delivering is how well you deliver through others, not personally. It means your first thought should be about who you want to engage and what request you want to make, and it helps to keep practicing making big requests of others.
If you have done the right job in Future and Engage, you will excel in Deliver. This is captured in the story of two stone carvers. One explains he is ‘carving stone’, the more motivated second one says ‘I’m building a cathedral’.

10. To counteract people’s distractions, mistakes, underperformance or discouragement it is essential for the leader to be resiliently focussed on the future and the big picture. You need to bring urgency and conviction to your requests, follow up on what you’ve asked for and address non delivery as soon as you see it.
I think that a reluctance to confront underperformance quickly costs many of the companies I mentor more than any other weakness. It is vital to clearly communicate the consequences of continued under-delivery as soon as it is evident, yet in an energising way for the underperformer.
Questions to keep asking include ‘What’s our overall purpose here? What does glorious success look like?’ Have high expectations and set high standards and plan practical milestones, processes including update procedures and timetables to ensure targets are reached on time. Include in this a safe space to make it easier for people to tell you of setbacks.

11. To excel at delivering more long term, of course you will need to develop others as leaders in turn, and take them through the stages above.
The book continues to consider other important areas of leadership, including how to engage people’s emotions as well as their intellect and team performance. If the above speaks to you, I can only urge you to read it in its entirety, it is the simplest communication of deep ideas for excellent leadership I have found.