Trust, consistency and setting clear goals: Patrick Hulbert on leadership

What characteristics do you think a good leader should have?
People who self-proclaim themselves as ‘leaders’, from my experience, have been the people I have least liked to work with. There’s a recurring trend of narcissistic tendencies that seem to permeate their personality. ‘Leader’ is a term you want to hear others saying about you, rather than going around telling everybody you are one.

I would say from my working experience that a good leader, above anything else, needs to be consistent and clear from the outset of your working relationship. I’m also conscious that what makes a great leader for some people may well not be a good match for others. For me, above all, there should be trust. This does not mean that the leader needs to be particularly extroverted, make grand gestures on LinkedIn about the team or even be particularly experienced in a leadership role or even hold a senior position, but that they are consistent in their approach and are able to respond accordingly.

The perfect ‘leader’ probably doesn’t exist, but you hope for enough of the positive attributes in them to make you want to run through walls for them if you need to. There are four specific individuals I would have done anything for, at any time, in order to complete a project or to ensure I did not ‘let them down’. This would mean I would happily (and happily is the key word here), work any number of hours required and for as many days as necessary.

“For me, above all, there should be trust.”

Three of these people were my manager, and I would call them a ‘leader’, and one a co-worker on the same management level, who nevertheless absolutely was and is a leader to me. I can categorically state that their ‘personality types’ are in some cases absolutely oppositional to one another. For me, it’s not all about TEDtalks and ‘motivating’ me, but the fact I know they have my best interests at heart, are there when I need them, and have made it very clear what they expect from me. Furthermore, taking time to understand my skills set, clearly setting realistic objectives, and knowing how they will respond to different circumstances are critical for me.

What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?
A good manager is a leader. Of course it depends on your job, but a good manager should understand your working style (not necessarily pander to it, but at least acknowledge it) and help utilise this to maximise your potential. When we think of management we think of process, and for some jobs this is more essential than others. For me, a leader is somebody who I don’t necessarily have to overly like, but who on a professional level inspires me to get the most out of my ability. This actually seems odd, because of course leaders lead and you follow, but for me it’s about being able to get the most out of your own ability, in the knowledge that your manager (whether they are what people would categorise as a ‘leader’ or not), has your back.

“To this day, my first manager remains an inspiration to me.

Do you think that leadership is taught or learnt?
A lot of being a good leader comes from using common sense and genuinely caring about the people you work with. After this, expertise helps your credibility and experience in a management position enables you to react to problematic circumstances effectively. While I’m sure leadership qualities can be learnt from a book or elsewhere, the person doing the learning also needs to be able to act logically and responsibly and if that is not in their character it may be difficult to adapt to these necessities.

Tell us about something different a leader did that has stuck with you.
To this day, my first manager remains an inspiration to me. Whatever their advice was, I implemented it, and couldn’t do enough to please them and learn from them. I left after three years and after that my second manager, personality wise, was the complete opposite. They were quite honestly utterly petrifying. However, they had a depth of experience, and from the first ever meeting they made it very clear what was expected from me. Was it tough? Yes, absolutely. Was it possible? Yes, and it helped develop my career. I don’t have anything particularly different they did to divulge, but the individual in general was just different, and to be honest on paper somebody I may have thought I would struggle to work with, and quite a few colleagues did struggle and turnover was quite high. However, while they were clear with me and what they expect, this also came with the caveat that they would offer me their full support, which was repaid when a major advertiser complained about me (I didn’t give them an award for something), and my manager told them that they can pull their adverts if they have a problem. The manager already had my full support before that, but after that there was nothing I wouldn’t reasonably have done for them.

Tell us about a time a leader showed empathy and compassion and improved a situation.
I am exceptionally fortunate to say I’ve never needed a leader or manager to show a particular amount of empathy or compassion in my career. On a personal level, there’s nothing I haven’t been able to manage and balance and fortunately I have remained healthy (as have my family). However, professionally speaking, I really struggle with the concept of empathy around tasks. For instance, if I am struggling on a task, the last thing I want from the manager is sympathy, while many other people do crave this. I want a practical solution to be ironed out between the pair of us which will save the half an hour of what I perceive to be self-pity. I’m not talking about working environments where you are told ‘there are no problems, only solutions’, but acknowledging there is an issue and working to rectify it. When I look back on the four people I mentioned previously, while I stated they were completely different personalities, they did all share this mindset. I appreciate other people work better with a collective empathetic approach and I have taken this into account as a manager in the past in order to ensure the team are given the tools and support they require in order to maximise their professional development and most importantly enjoy what they are doing.

Fear cripples progress.

What have you learnt from the leaders you’ve worked with and how has that affected your own behaviour in the workplace? 
I have worked in numerous environments in the past but I do have a recurring problem where as a manager I can be perceived as being a ‘bit soft’. This perception tends to come from CEOs and equivalents but I still believe that being reasonable and realistic are important in the workplace. I especially do not like setting unreasonable targets in order to get as close to them as possible. I find it completely exhausting to work like this and implement this strategy. I always strive to stay consistent, whether I am talking to a member of staff straight out of college on their first day or the CEO. Be fair, be honest, and if you have to, call a spade a spade. I also have a ‘hands-off’ management style as I believe it breeds creativity in the roles I have had. I would say that the people I mention as inspirational leaders also managed in this way. I appreciate some people do not like this environment and I try to tailor my management style in these instances, but I always make it clear to the team that they are most welcome to be creative. Fear cripples progress. While my management style has historically meant one or two mistakes slip through the cracks, it has also meant we have pushed boundaries and done some superb work and enriched our collective professional development.

Have you ever had or been a mentor and if so, how was that experience?
I have been fortunate enough to be the manager of many inspirational people from all over the world. This has not really meant that I have been a mentor, however. One thing I always try to do is give regular feedback which is fair and clear, which will also depend on the needs of the individual.

Bad bosses can have a negative effect on workplace environments, productivity and even mental health. Have you ever been affected by a poor manager?
Everyone is affected by a poor manager, and somebody that can be an inspiration for me may not necessarily be an inspiration for others. There are grey areas and I acknowledge that. I believe I am relatively forgiving when working with strategic leadership team members, but there are two examples where the working environment was made thoroughly toxic by their actions. One enjoyed trying to sack people (and trying to get me to be the one who did it), and the other was playing a blame game and giving unreasonable requests which resulted in the entire department leaving the company. I would be lying if I said it didn’t impact my home life as well.

Have you learned what not to do from the bad bosses and leaders? 
I genuinely believe a lot of good leadership revolves around common sense, but that some people don’t seem to have it. It’s absolutely true that you shouldn’t have an unreasonable person managing teams, even if they are incredible at their jobs. I believe Netflix in particular abides by the culture of rooting out bad apples. ‘People over process’ appears to be their mantra. I would say a lot of what I have learned has come from personal experience as I get more experience. I need to learn that being a good manager isn’t always about being the ‘best’ at every task but ensuring the team maximises its potential. Like everyone else, I’m still learning. However, for me to really know how I have been performing as a manager in the past, I would need to ask the people I have worked with. This would be a far better tool than self-evaluation.

Patrick Hulbert has worked in journalism and public relations roles for a decade. In this time, he has been a sport and lifestyle magazine journalist, as well as working as Editor for new media giants LADBible and as Global Editorial Lead for web browser Opera. More recently, he has worked in public relations and communications in the franchising industry and for a university.

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