Changes in life are inevitable. As a human being, you cannot condition yourself to fit only in an environment in which you are used to, you always find yourself on the move either knowingly or unknowingly. This is the same scenario in workplaces; the time when you think you have established your operations in a given department, you find a letter on your table from your boss informing you of your transfer to another department. Some people find it really hard to cope with such situation. Personally, in my early day in the banking sector, I felt safe as a teller since I had very few responsibilities other than my interaction with the clients; little did I know that I was not to serve that role for a long time. The change came and had to be effected immediately, the branch manager at Equity Bank Inc. was given a promotion and had to leave the bank within two weeks. The official email from the head office, stating that the office had evaluated the staff at my branch and had enough confidence in settling at me as the successor of the promoted manager sent a cold of fear in my whole body.
I had not undergone any induction in preparation for such a big task. I took my time to evaluate my strengths and a weakness as far as leadership is concerned; I eventually realized that the fear I felt was nothing but the anxiety to succeed. I considered my previous leadership record, combined it with the skills I had gathered through leadership workshops then welcomed the opportunity. I understood very well that it was not going to be easy at all to lead a team of more than thirty qualified staff members at the bank, given the targets that are always set by the Head Office. Assessing my leadership traits and skills, I was ready to face the new challenges that were to come upon assuming the managerial position at the bank. What I was sure of was the fact that my team expected me to establish direction and influence the each and every one of them to follow that direction.
The first thing that knew was natural in me as far as leadership is concerned was ambition. Burns (1978) speaks highly of ambition as a pillar in the success of a leader, irrespective of the team or size of the organization that one is taking charge of. It was clear that the bank had a vision; this in itself was meaningless if as the team leader I lacked ambition. I figured a scenario wherein a few months under my leadership, my branch would be able to report the highest growth both in revenue, physical assets and satisfaction of my team members. I wanted my team to become a top-flight achiever while avoiding a situation where my team members feel used as instruments of achieving results.
Energy and the desire to lead had been born in my heart; I had the urge to go for that which I had said yes to. The desire in me to achieve at times surprised my team members. It always reenergized my engine and gave me the much-required energy to forge ahead even in times when things seemed tough. It was the inborn energy and desire that encouraged me during my early days in the office when my branch could not meet the minimum deposits and my team members were much discouraged. Many even complained about the idea of the head office setting such high targets when it is clear that the bank’s clients could not be forced to make financial transactions with the bank.
Self-confidence played a key role in ensuring that I learn very fast the areas in which I had difficulties. Heller and Till (1982) describes self-confidence as a fundament element that enhances one to gain knowledge and skills that are vital in making key decisions as a leader. I was not afraid of consulting whenever I felt like my world was coming to crash yet I totally lacked any lead to the outside world. My team members were greatly moved by the level of confidence I showed when giving directions or whenever they sought any form of assistance from me. This was further replicated with my seniors during meetings; they liked the way I explained my ideas and none of them would deny me support whenever I called for it.
It is very important for a leader to be a person whose level intelligence is unquestionable. It is the way one makes decisions when faced with different problems that his/ her level of intelligence is assessed. As a leader, you are bound to be faced with cases that call for different responses. There is no any set of solutions to problems in life, and so is in leadership (Remland, 1981). It is the leader to critically consider the situation at hand, internalize it and then issue a carefully reflected upon statement in response to the problem.
Honesty and integrity carried me a long way throughout my leadership at the bank. These traits are very important for any leader who expects to win trust and support of the followers. It is common for followers to try their best to assess their leader’s level of honesty integrity. The easiest way they use to establish this is by assessing the leader’s ability to keep his/ her word. It is very important for you as a leader to ensure that before you make any promise to your team members, establish your ability to live up to your word (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991). This is an aspect of leadership that earned me support not only from my team members but also the support of my seniors. They knew they could always count on me to deliver on what I promised.
Business knowledge assured me of my place in the bank. My technical expertise in matters of business was very crucial and highly valued at the bank. It was the key assurance that I could offer to my team members whenever I had a discussion with them. It earned me their trust and confidence in the decisions that I made. They always felt that I knew what I was talking about since I had wide understanding of the subject matter of our discussions. It would otherwise be very difficult for you as a leader to watch over the implementation of a decision you made while your followers are fully aware that you do not have the minutest idea of what is taking place (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991).
It should however be noted that these traits alone are not sufficient to make you proclaim yourself a good leader (Trevino & Brown, 2003). I came to learn that indeed there is more than these attributes in the making of a good leader.
In addition to the characteristics of leadership that I possessed, knowledge and abilities also proved to be very useful as I sought to establish my leadership at the bank. This I came to discover that would always depend on the situation at hand. In order to effectively apply my skills, I learnt a number of new ideas.
Defining and establishing a sense of mission proved quite useful. I set goals, priorities, and standards for my team. I communicated them to these objectives to all of my team members and ensured that each one of them clearly understood them. During a meeting with them, I revisited them to ensure that every single one of them had them in mind and was indeed committed to seeing that they are met. I allowed for discussions with the team members to assess any problems that could pose as obstacles to the realization of those objectives. The atmosphere was always conducive and no one feared airing their suggestions.
One thing that gave more encouragement as a leader was the realization of the talent that I had in my camp. As Burn explains; I accepted leadership as a responsibility and not a rank. I knew that it was not because I was the best that I was the leader; it was solely because among the men talented members of the team, one had to be there to give direction. This gave the free will to work with the talented and capable members of my team without having any fear of being replaced by them. I discovered that whenever something went wrong, blaming my team members would not help the team in realizing the objectives; I always sought to discuss with my team on the best measures that would prevent reoccurrence of the same. This was a very important in building a formidable team.
Another discovery that I made was that effective leadership was not to be confused in any way with being clever but rather an attempt to being consistent (Peter, 2009). This came with the realization that no matter how much I read about leadership, at the end of the day, what was most fundamental was going to be my ability to establish direction and influence my team members to align themselves in that direction. This brought another challenge; this time, the style that I would employ in carrying out my roles.
I had experience with a variety of leadership styles that I could employ in order to achieve the objectives that I had set; which were in fact a reflection of the vision, mission and values of Equity Bank Inc. I took my time to go through the most common leadership styles; autocratic, participative and Laissez-faire (free-rein) (Burns, 1978). I carefully considered the three leadership styles against my personal attributes.
I realized that I was not the type of people who embraced autocratic leadership style. It would pain me to impose decisions on my team members and then continually put them under pressure and direction in order to get things done. I ruled out this leadership style from my list and opted to consider the rest.
Talking of free-rein, I was not quite sure about. I had a feeling that I had to be very close to my team members as contradicted by this leadership style. I knew that I if it was to have any chance, it would only be after I had organized my team and was sure that everything was moving in the desired direction.
Participative leadership style is the one that gave me a smile when I analyzed. I knew it was my interest to encourage my team members and delegate wisely while keeping in mind the fact that I bore the fundamental responsibility of leadership. I embraced group discussions and was always keen to recognize outstanding performers from my team; these were frequently rewarded. This leadership style gave me an opportunity to have a good understanding of each member of my group and hence to know how best to handle him /her at the individual level. Many leaders do not use participatory leadership style for fear of making their followers feel that they (leaders) are not sure of what they are doing (Denhardt & Campbell, 2006); on the contrary, I found this the best way of instigating confidence in my team members through the close relationship.
Use of power
As the branch manager, I had power to influence my team members. I knew that to be an effective leader, it all depended on how one uses the power that his/her office vests in him/ her. For my case; legitimate, reward and coercive powers were all at my disposal. It was upon me to apply them with the main aim being achieving results. I however, went ahead and thought beyond result, I told myself to question the moral aspect behind each power. I decided that I would endeavor to use legitimate power to a smaller extent and instead embrace reward power while using almost trying to forget the existent of coercive power. This enhanced development of a very strong bond between my team members and me. It is the strong bond that saw me win trust of my team members which as noted earlier is an impetus to success (Remland, 1981). I realized a very encouraged team that our clients could not stop admiring the way they were being served at the branch. It was only going to be a matter of time before our award came.
In order to cope with the changes in the banking industry, as a leader, it was my responsibility to always find the best way of explaining the change to my team members. It is proven that human beings do not like changes. I remember the reaction of my team members when they received a memo from the head office informing them of the fact due to the increased workload at the office, the head office would be rotationally picking one of them to help at the head office for one week. My team members were left devastated by that memo that I had to think faster and come up with something to cheer them up. Such changes occur quite often and the best way to address them is by use of transformational leadership.
Transformational leadership, unlike transactional leadership whose main interest is to guide followers in the direction of established goals by classifying role and task requirements (Trevino & Brown, 2003); it understands the needs of followers and supports them, seeking higher level needs and engaging followers as whole persons. This leadership results in relationship that is defined by mutual stimulation and elevation. It enhances the conversion of followers to leaders and leaders to role models in the society. This is the leadership that conforms to Burns definition of leadership, that is, leadership is not supposed to be regarded as something that leaders do to followers in order to attain the goals of an organization but a mutual relationship that enhances talent growth and management in an organization (Denhardt & Campbell, 2006).
I embraced transformational leadership, the fruits were great. My team members wondered what they would have to do when time for me to move on came. I too felt sick on the mere thought of having to part with my team. What inspired me most was the fact that my tenor as a leader had been appreciated by all the stakeholders. To me , it would have been work halfway done if I received all those honors yet my team members were not proud of me. That would have only meant that I used them in order to get recognition from the bank. As a leader, there cannot be a better time for you to think of throwing a bash than when your team wins and the team members plus the clients are all satisfied. The climax of my celebration for the success was a whole day out with my team members; we had fun and we all congratulated one another for team spirit that had earned us recognition.
Leadership should always be taken as an opportunity to guide the followers towards achieving both the results and the moral needs of the followers. It should not be mistaken for exercising power and authority over the followers in order to attain the set targets. The changes in the world of management call for leaders to embrace transformational leadership. It is however, important for leaders to realize that the decision to settle on a given leadership style calls for an understanding of the leader’s abilities and skills in addition to flexibility.