How to be a better leader: Key tips from Stefan Stern

'Co-ops often show that agreement and common purpose are much more powerful than commands'

How to be a better leader by  Stefan Stern (Bluebird Books, 2019, £7.99)

Leadership in the world of co-ops and mutuals will be a key theme at Co-operative Congress in Manchester on 21-22 June. Fresh from producing his latest book, writer Stefan Stern, will be sharing his thoughts in a speech to delegates.

A visiting professor in management practice at Cass Business School, part of City, University of London, Mr Stern draws parallels and distinctions between clichés of leadership, particularly in private sector business and politics.

His book also provides tips on how to improve leadership skills and avoid the pitfalls of becoming a bad leader.

Leadership in co-ops can be very subtle and powerful, he says, but can also feel more sluggish than having a big boss in charge.

“Co-ops often show that agreement and common purpose are much more powerful than commands,” he says, explaining that this approach can help address an increasing dissatisfaction with the traditional command and control approach.

“In a way, co-ops and partnerships are often ahead of the game in terms of what modern leadership might look like. You don’t want superstar CEOs but people who are serving the organisation and sharing leadership. Leadership is a team effort,” he adds.

Related: Co-operatives of the Year – 2019 shortlists announced

The book argues that leaders need to build a sense of community in their business, which will give the enterprise a competitive advantage. Would co-ops be better placed to bring this sense of community to life? Mr Stern thinks a shared understanding about what the business is trying to do means co-operatives have a mental toolkit already in place, which can help them in terms of time management.

What are the key qualities for good leadership? Mr Stern believes leaders have to be sense makers. “They have to make sense of the world we are in and tell us why we are doing what we’re doing,” he says. “If people come to work unclear about what they’re supposed to be doing then leadership has failed.”

Positivity is another crucial personal trait, he adds. “No one wants to work for a pessimist or a deeply anxious or gloomy person, they have to be positive, this is partially related to purpose and hoping you are doing something worthwhile.”

The third key factor is that leaders must be aware that they are serving others.

“Leadership is about everybody else,” says Mr Stern. “We focus too much on individuals and personalities. Leadership is a service – it is a big responsibility being leader and it should weigh heavily on you.”

“I hope people come away from the book and say, ‘I think I’d be better at leadership if I thought about more than just myself,’” says Mr Stern.

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