Operational Leadership

Operational Leadership

There are numerous articles and books out there about operational leadership. Since this topic is one of my favourites, I wanted to dedicate time and share my thoughts. In the below short article, I will endeavour to outline my vision of effective operational leadership, keeping in mind the vastness of this topic and its ever-growing potential.  

The effective leader's fundamental role is to establish the team's work goals, ethical standards, and expectations through influence. The leader can complete tasks more efficiently by setting exemplary standards, demonstrating a complex of professional and personal skills, and heavily relying on emotional intelligence (EI).  

Leader. Cambridge dictionary defines a leader as "a person in control of a group, country, or situation".

Leadership. The Oxford dictionary defines leading as "to go with or in front of a person or an animal to show the way or to make them go in the right direction".

Emotional leadership styles. According to the EI guru Daniel Goleman, there are six emotional leadership styles:

·      Visionary leader: inspires and moves the team towards the common goal. They tell their team where they are all going but not how they will get there.

·      Coaching leader: connects people's personal goals with operational targets. A leader using this style is empathic, encourages and focuses on developing others.

·      Affiliative leader promotes harmony within the team. This style brings people together, encourages inclusion and resolves conflicts.

·      Democratic leader focuses on collaboration. Leaders using this leadership style actively seek input from their team and rely on listening rather than directing.

·      Pacesetting leader focuses on performance and meeting goals. They expect excellence from their team and will often step in.

·      Coercive leader: use an autocratic approach to leadership. This style often depends on orders, the threat of punishment and tight control.

Effective leaders don't apply only one style. They are proficient in multiple emotional leadership styles and adapt their approach depending on the circumstances.  

Self-example. An effective leader must lead by example, take the driver's seat, and set high professional and ethical standards. A leader who leads from the driver's seat means being visible and proactive in connecting with the operatives and clients during the operation. This strategy can allow the leader to gather ongoing feedback, analyse it, and improve daily operations. Setting an ethical and professional example as a leader is difficult. Still, the leader must set it for the team members who would learn and follow it, impacting the operation's overall effectiveness and the company's reputation.  

Self-awareness. Leadership starts with self-awareness, identifying weaknesses and strengths, and productively utilising them in any operational context. Self-awareness is empowering as it arms the leader with knowledge and enables them to make better operational decisions. Self-aware leaders don't hesitate to empower team members and use their skills to overcome weaknesses. Also, it helps them to identify internal and external emotional triggers and make better operational decisions.

Operational structure. The hierarchy structure provides more clarity and consistency, helps manage expectations and enables better decision-making. It also establishes operating procedures within the team from the top down on how to execute their duties and address any emergencies or incidents. Lastly, setting and promoting an operational structure prevents authority and power battles between team members, ensuring a healthy working environment and focusing on the operation.  

Transparent communications. The effective leader must enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward rumours, grassing, and backstabbing among team members, as those are examples of some of the most harmful conduct during an operation. Whether the gossip is true or not, its circulation has a toxic impact, bringing down morale and adversely affecting the team's culture. Building a team player spirit and a healthy working environment is crucial for the operatives' performance and mental health.

Delegation. One of the most challenging transitions for prospective leaders is the shift from doing to leading. The skill to delegate effectively saves time from micromanaging and allows concentration on the strategic goals of the operation. Delegating empowers the team, builds trust, and promotes operatives' professional development. Delegation is more than just handing out tasks to the operatives. Influential leaders carefully consider what to delegate and to whom and understand how delegation makes their operations more effective.

Emotional intelligence. Effective leadership exhibits the traits of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and ethics; in other words, it means high emotional intelligence. Influential leaders earn the respect of operatives through their actions and behaviour, verbal and non-verbal. The emotionally intelligent leader needs to hold it together when tension escalates within the operation, helping foster a healthy operational culture. A leader must remain approachable, open-minded, and committed to building relationships with operators, clients and stakeholders. Leaders use emotional intelligence to self-lead, lead others and lead the operation.

Management style. The influential leaders run operations using a "bottom-up" management approach, understanding operational challenges from the "boots on the ground." This management style can assist with improving daily operations and working conditions. Leaders don't need to be experts in every aspect of the operation. Still, they must be willing to listen, respect the expertise of others and change their opinion or approach if appropriate. Identify the talents and strengths of team members and assign work roles and responsibilities accordingly to work with the best operators, decision-makers and problem solvers. Work with team leaders with experience, know-how and high emotional intelligence.  

Summary. Effective leadership in the 21st century requires much more than pure subject matter knowledge or experience. It relies on complex interpersonal skills, including high emotional intelligence, professionalism, and the ability to be influential. Great leaders know how to inspire the team regardless of culture, demographics, experience or background. The leader has to adopt a modern, open-minded mindset to deal with the operational challenges of the new century. I agree with Daniel Goleman that emotional intelligence differentiates an effective leader from the rest.






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