Training June 2016

Real leaders

How to be more successful

  • Care about your people, not just your sales numbers
  • Don’t step on the bodies of your employees to get ahead
  • Live your vision statement; it fades in the collective memory

We love acronyms. Our workplaces are thriving with them to such an extent that we can hold extended conversations composed entirely of these seemingly impenetrable codes. They can be handy, however.

This is a summary of the great and the good tendencies amongst leaders based on recent research carried out by Dale Carnegie Training in the US on what leaders need to do to be more successful. It is comprised of the elements reliable, empathetic, aspirational and learner (REAL)—a short and serviceable way to describe best practice leadership attributes.


This attribute is an obvious choice for a leader. Though much upheld in principle, however, it tends to break down in practice. For example, “managing up” is a buzzword for describing how to deal with one’s boss. It used to be called “sucking up to the boss” to get ahead. In the latter scenario, this means being a Teflon worker: taking all the glory for yourself, being untouchable for mistakes while blaming others for them, and stepping on the bodies of your staff, to elevate your own brilliant career.

Reliable, however, is an attribute that leads to trust only when staff observe that what is said is actually done, that promises are kept, and that their own personal development is being given a high priority.

To ask, “What is in it for me?” is a common human frailty. Bosses who keep this employee perspective in mind, while making sure that the organisation and individual goals of their staff are aligned, get more loyalty—and more work accomplished. Misunderstandings that arise usually can be traced back to poor communication. More work is needed by bosses in this area.


This trait is closely linked to listening skills. Taking the viewpoint of the other person is difficult if we don’t know what it is. The Japanese expression kuki wo yomu, or summing up the real situation, is a great phrase to explain empathy. What is being said is important but, more often, what isn’t being said is where the insight is buried.

Busy bosses, though, don’t have much time to get below the surface of the workplace. Some don’t care: “just get me the numbers—or else”. Using our position power works up to a point, but we then pay the price. We miss out on a lot of creative potential, as ideas are not shared. If we want to know what is really going on, and what people are really thinking, we have to take the time to work at it.

Expressing that we genuinely care is another neglected communication skill. Successful bosses have good awareness, and confidence to communicate they really do have concern for their people.


We need to grasp the bigger picture; hover above the melee of the everyday to see the vision being realised far on the horizon. This means communicating beyond the quarter’s goals and considering each individual’s role in terms of their contribution to the bigger picture.

Framed glass protects a firm’s vision statement, ceremoniously hung on the wall. While those words may not fade in the sunlight, they fade in the collective memory. No one can recite it, let alone live it, so it is as meaningful as the flower arrangement on the reception desk—a sufficiently pleasant idea but ephemeral.

A leader has to inject ideas and concepts related to that vision into terms that resonate with each person. This takes time, which is why so few organisations get any return on their investment in their vision statement.


This practice of learning often gets nods of approval but many executives have had one year of experience 30 times rather than 30 years of experience. Their views are still locked away in a mental vault, for which they have lost the key.

They are also too busy to learn—busy working in their business rather than on their business. They are up to date on Facebook but way behind where the industry is headed and where their firm needs to go. They are well informed yet ignorant, because they lack perspective and acuity.

Moreover, if we aren’t prepared to permanently kill our darlings—our favoured ideas and concepts—we must be prepared to risk falling behind, trampled by our competitors.

Get started

While yet another acronym, REAL is easy to remember, which is, at least, a start to actually realising its power. We know all of these things—we just forget or get too busy to do them. We should change that.