I served in the Royal Navy for a few years, working my way up from being an apprentice. I enjoyed my time, I learned a technical trade, made some great friends and also learned a lot about leadership and how people associate it with hierarchy.
I think my favourite example was when our ship was crossing the Indian Ocean. The captain gave us an afternoon of R&R (Rest & Recreation) when we could sunbathe on the flightdeck. It was my first time. So I went out, the flight deck was very busy, and I climbed onto the roof of the helicopter hanger which was also really busy. After a few minutes my boss came over to me and asked “are you trying to embarrass me?” – it turned out the hanger roof was only for the next ranks above me. The Bridge Roof was reserved for officers only.
Many people associate leadership with hierarchy, but that’s a limited view. Leadership is an essential element of professional life, and it goes beyond just managing people or perks of rank. In fact, it has more to do with influencing people and bringing out the best in them. To build long-lasting relationships, both personal and professional, you must understand that leadership is more than just a title. It’s about how you use your skills and abilities to inspire confidence in people and create a work culture that embraces excellence in every way possible.
- Your Attitude Matters More than Your Title
Leadership is about your attitude and how you engage with people. A good leader inspires trust and earns respect. You don’t need a title or position to exemplify this. You can be a team member but act as a leader by taking ownership and responsibility, seeking out opportunities for growth, and being proactive. When people notice you consistently showing up positively, they’ll respect you a lot more than someone who holds a title but doesn’t demonstrate leadership qualities.
- Leaders Coach, Not Dictate
One of the primary roles of leadership is to coach people. Coaching means guiding and providing feedback on how someone can improve. In contrast, dictating tells people what to do without empowering them to make decisions or grow. A good leader looks for each individual’s strengths and helps them improve areas of weakness. They care about their team members’ growth and want to see them excel. When a leader invests in their people, they create a solid team that trusts and respects each other, which is crucial for success.
- Communication is Key
Effective communication is a vital component of leadership. The ability to listen actively and provide meaningful feedback can take any relationship to the next level. Misunderstandings can and frequently do happen easily, and a leader can help clear them up rather than dwelling on them. Your communication style should be inclusive and focus on building consensus rather than overpowering the conversation.
- Leaders Model Desired Behaviour
Leaders who model their behaviour in line with their values tend to be more successful in the long run. They show their team members what behaviours work best in the work environment and what they expect. Good leadership works by encouraging good behaviours and setting an example. When leaders believe in what they’re doing, it’s easier to inspire others to follow their lead.
- Leadership is a Lifelong Learning Journey
Leadership isn’t a destination with an endpoint—it’s a lifelong journey. As circumstances change, leaders must continue growing and adapting. Time and experience give leaders the ability to learn from their successes and failures and keep improving. Leaders who make an effort to stay curious and push themselves to learn will always be more successful than those who remain stagnant.
The Royal Navy and many other organisations I’ve worked for have actively invested in giving me structured ways to learn about management and also the environment to take some leadership risks so that I could learn. There were also benefits of being a junior rank rather than an officer. For pudding the officers had prunes wrapped in bacon and served on toast, while we junior ranks had chocolate pudding with chocolate custard – you choose your favourite!
In conclusion, leadership is more than just a position of authority. It’s a mindset, a skill set and a way of being. Leadership isn’t something that’s bestowed upon you, but rather it’s earned. You must demonstrate leadership consistently in your actions, thoughts and interactions. Adopting these leadership traits will help you build positive relationships, foster a healthy culture, and inspire people. Whether you are leading from the front or supporting from the back, everyone has the opportunity to be a leader and make a difference in their organisation.