Lessons for Liz Truss: the job of a leader is to take people with you - Amana Walker

As a leader, how do you convince people to believe in you? Whether you’re a prime minister, a leader in business or a manager of a football team – here are a few essentials, writes Amana Walker

Liz Truss gave her keynote speech at the Tory Party Conference after a challenging first month in power (Getty Images)Liz Truss gave her keynote speech at the Tory Party Conference after a challenging first month in power (Getty Images)
Liz Truss gave her keynote speech at the Tory Party Conference after a challenging first month in power (Getty Images)

“Leadership is easy.” Said no-one, ever.

But it does help if you start well, earn respect, and give people reasons to follow you in whichever direction you are moving.

Liz Truss hasn’t had the best start in her new job as Prime Minister has she? After beating off the competition (well, Rishi Sunak) for the job, she was immediately thrust into the spotlight to meet the Queen, before formally taking over from Boris Johnson.

This meeting was all too swiftly followed by the death of Elizabeth II and attendance at her funeral, where the world’s eyes were on Truss and her new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng. And whilst the world’s eyes were on him, he was spotted appearing to be having a laugh in the pews before the funeral. Whatever the circumstances, that’s one heck of a big mistake.

And let’s not forget that in her new role, Truss has big boots to fill. OK, Boris Johnson made his mistakes along the way, but he did have a degree of support and, depending on who you ask, a fair whack of charisma as a leader.

Charisma, when you’re in the spotlight, is not just a useful ingredient to have – it’s essential when ‘selling’ your vision and gathering support.

But what if (like Liz) you don’t have enough (or any) of it?

Well, all is not lost, providing you keep working on it (yes, it is possible to develop more charisma), you stand out in other ways, you lead from the front and, crucially, you start taking people with on the journey. After all, one of the biggest jobs of any leader is to have people believing in you and the things you stand for.

So how can you do that?

Whether you are a prime minister, a leader in business or a manager of a football team – here are a few essentials...

Read the room (or country) before making your big plan

Listen to the people you are leading. What are they struggling with? Pay attention to what matters to them and consider how you can build in some support that will help the majority.

Avoid the mistakes of your predecessor – no one wants to see a repeat of what they’ve had before. Think differently, do better.

Don’t touch whatever is already working well. You can make improvements further down the line, but for now, don’t try to fix what’s not broken.

Make your vision sound exciting

Whatever your plan is to move the country, business, or team, forward, make it sound exciting. We all want to be a part of team that’s going places, even if the road ahead does sound bumpy. Be honest, be brave and be real.

The achievement has to be worth the ride, and as a leader you have to be convincing. If the people you are leading don’t believe the plan will succeed, it’s either because they can’t see how they will benefit – or because they’re not fully invested in you as their leader.

Or both. Either way, you have work to do to win people over.

Get the right team around you

The best leaders build the best teams around them. Diversity matters, because it helps you to understand the people you are leading (and your customers) so look for talented people who are different to you. Your way isn’t necessarily the best, or only way.

Be clear about what you want from your team and have high expectations of them. A bunch of ‘yes’ people serves no one well – you want trust and honesty.

Listen well, even if you don’t like what they are telling you.

Deliver some quick wins

Right from the moment you are in the job, the pressure will be there to deliver. Your job is to prove your worth early and one of the ways you can do this is by delivering some quick wins.

It might be an improvement in how things are done, that will benefit everyone. Or you might make an announcement of some good news. Or it could be an immediate solution to a problem. Whatever it is – large or small – be decisive, communicate clearly and act fast.

When there is a new leader, people want to see change.

Keep listening. Keep communicating.

You’ll get some things wrong – and when you do, own up quickly. No-one wants to have a boss who shirks responsibility or tries to hide their mistakes – we see too much of that don’t we?

Listen to your team and your customers – and ask how you can be a better leader. Never assume you are doing a good job.

When you’re a leader, your team and customers will want to see you and hear from you. Be visible. And regularly communicate how the plan is going, modifying it if you need to. Stay close to your people – if you lose touch of reality, you’ll lose support as a leader.

Being a great leader isn’t just about what you do, it’s also about who you are. Your choice of words, how you speak and how you behave all matter. They help us to decide if we want to follow you.

Liz Truss certainly hasn’t had the best of starts as PM. Will she listen to and take advice (including the tips here)? Only time will tell, and as with many managers and leaders out there, performance and results will decide.

Having coached many leaders though, I know this for sure: if you don’t take people with you, you’re not a leader.

Amana Walker is a performance coach who works with a range of business leaders and sports professionals. More info at www.amanawalker.com

You can listen to Amana on our self-improvement podcast series, The Reset Room.