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Finding Your True Leadership Voice

Counting all formats, Amazon offers 57,136 books with the word “leadership” in the title. There are tens of thousands leadership coaches and consultants. Thousands of leadership development programs. Hundreds of leadership psychometric tests and assessments. Leadership development has become a million-pound industry.

But is it working?

85% of the Global Workforce Are Not Engaged at Work.  In the UK, we are lagging behind most of the world. A survey of more than 4,500 workers, compared employee engagement around the world. The UK recorded average engagement scores of 45%. This score is lower than France (54%), Australia (56%) and the USA (60%).

A few more statistical summaries:

  • Organisations with high employee engagement outperform those with low levels of engagement by 202%.
  • Highly engaged companies are 21% more profitable.
  • Disengaged employees have a 60% higher error rate.
  • Disengaged employees cost the UK up to £70 Billion per year in lost productivity.
  • 85% of Leaders say employee engagement Is a priority, but only one-third make it a priority.
  • Over 80% of people leave their manager – not their job.

The data backed by my own gut sense tells me it isn’t working, so what’s going wrong?

Your Title Doesn’t make You a Leader

The most common route to the top in business comes through a pretty traditional route, – a university education, strong theoretical skills, determination, hard work, knowing the right people, -or part of the family, towing the line, keeping your head down and never challenging the status quo.

As a result, we have many logical thinking, hardworking capable executives who have great levels of specialised knowledge and a proven ability to develop their own career. We have far fewer leaders with the emotional intelligence, values, passions and ambitions to inspire, engage and connect with people in the pursuit of mutual ambitions.

Too many people in charge are seen as; closed minded, micro managers, often demonstrating poor self-awareness and behaviour’s, defensive in attitude and manner, aloof with people and quick to remind others of their position in the company.

Whilst many try, you can’t simply promote and squeeze someone into a shiny new leaders’ jacket.

Old School Leadership – Suppress, Command, and Control

Often in denial, many businesses and organisational leaders are living in the past where the majority of people worked in low paid manual roles, turned up to work, did their jobs, collected wages and went home. They had no engagement in the bigger picture and little chance to develop and grow a career personally.

Fear and bullying were the order of the day. There was no human relationship or connection between those in charge and those working operationally. The bosses sat in plush offices removed from any daily grime. People were viewed as commodities and had very little going on outside of their working day.

This may sound a Dickens novel of years ago but unfortunately many companies are still operating this way, where the culture is built on mistrust, everything works top down, people operating in silos, communication is common and very few employees are actively engaged in what they do.

Does this sound like somewhere you’d like to work? Is this a productive, fun place unlocking its potential and maximising its performance through its people?

We live in a very different world. To survive and thrive in this world leaders must find new ways of inspiring, engaging and connecting people behind common ambitions.

Modern Day Leadership – Inspire, Engage and Connect

Those companies and organisations at the top of their game have changed and brought in or developed new leaders whose expertise lies more in creating a positive culture and developing people. They see this approach as opening businesses up to be people centric, having asked themselves how they can get the best from people, by asking how they would like to be treated.

These courageous leaders recognise that today’s generation is completely different from previous ones who grew up thinking a job was for life and final salary pensions were common. These rare and unstoppable leaders are more balanced in their thinking with the emotional capability to inspire. Their businesses are driven by a desire to be performance orientated; and values led. They aim to deliver top notch results by having a positive impact on people’s lives.

These leaders have challenged antiquated structures and ways of operating such as; superficial annual appraisals, oppressive terms and conditions, and the reluctant use of technology, combining to offer a poor work/life balance and limited personal development.

Another ambition they share is to make themselves redundant from daily tasks by trusting and empowering their people to own the short-term agenda. Instead of daily interference and control they focus their time on looking to the future to strategically get ahead of competitors, fully understand and utilise innovation and technology and critically for employee confidence, safeguard jobs.

So how do you start to develop as a modern-day leader-? By finding your often-hidden true voice.

Finding Your True Voice

Finding your “real you” voice as a leader is the difference between remaining a closed, bland, bureaucratic and surviving leader rather than becoming an open, supportive, influential and go to role model. But building this capability starts by understanding your own wants and needs. This is key. You can’t expect others to buy-in to you and your new approach and ambitions if you don’t buy-in yourself. Authenticity is critical.

This isn’t about management bullshit or searching google for buzzwords. It is initially about developing real self-awareness. People see right through insincerity.

It’s about tapping into qualities you will have but maybe never new existed. I truly believe anybody, and everybody has the capacity to lead. We all have a head and a heart what differentiates is simply how we choose to use them.

Finding your new voice starts by re visiting and honestly discovering the answers to the below questions:

What Are Your Values – Your Driving Principles

Values help define the person you want to be – drive your decisions. They are the principles that guide how you want to run your live. As a leader you have many choices and decisions to make – those that impact just you, and those that impact many others. Decisions, big or small, can be made faster, easier and with greater confidence when you start with your values. … Values strengthen your ability to influence.

Here are a few questions to help you better understand your values:

  1. What values did you grow up with? Does your current thinking reflect those values, or do you see things differently today?
  2. At work and in life, who do you most respect and what do you respect about them?
  3. Who do you least respect and what makes you feel this way?
  4. Who is the best and the worst boss you’ve ever had and what did they do to earn this opinion of them?
  5. In life generally, what behaviours do you most and least want to see?

What Are Your Passions – The Things You Love to do

The word passion is used to describe a powerful range of emotions, from love to anger, hatred to joy. Positive passion elevates productivity and helps people commit to your vision. It leads to mastery and success, in large part because you are always thinking and working on the things you care most about. Most successful leaders don’t see their work as a job but a privilege.

Here are a few questions to help you get started in exploring your passions:

  1. What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
  2. What types of work do you love to do?
  3. What types of work send you to sleep?
  4. If you retired tomorrow, what would you miss the most about your work?
  5. What are your hobbies and interests and what do you like about them?

What Are Your Ambitions – Your Desired Future State

Ambition is often a leadership trait that is ignored. However, every great leader is a person that aspires. They are driven to become better people and to grow and develop a better organisation. Every leader must first want to become a leader. They must have a dream of a better, exciting future and a desire to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

Here are a few questions to help you identify your ambitions.

  1. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  2. Is the way you’re currently living your life meaningful and gratifying to you?
  3. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
  4. Imagine that you only had one year left on earth. How would you spend your time?

In Summary

The world has changed. Very simply leaders have two options; to be pushed further into a stressful, defensive corner, holding onto the past or uncover, unlock and unleash the incredible resourcefulness and talents you and your people have to offer.

I hope my thoughts have stimulated some new thinking and given you some ideas on how you can find your true voice as a leader. Be courageous and choose to start your own exciting and challenging journey to deliver high performance through shared mutual ambitions to have a positive impact on people lives – both yours and the people you work with.

Stay healthy.

This article was written by Phil Hartshorne, a key member of the Manufacturers Alliance team and strong supporter of modern leadership becoming the norm within UK manufacturing.


The first step to becoming a modern leader is becoming more self aware and building your own levels of emotional intelligence. Learning what makes people tick and how to build great relationships with your team, that leads to your own authentic style of leading. Learn more about the Manufacturers Alliance Emotional Intelligence Programme here and sign up for our next course.