Leadership capability patterns: People

Part of an ongoing series of articles on leadership capability patterns; this article looks at some leadership patterns that relate to people.

In 2007, I contracted at the Financial Services Authority in Canary Wharf, London, on a project to research and implement an enterprise document and records management system. At the same time as leading the vendor selection process on that project, I was given responsibilities for a second project, to launch a consumer advice service, for which I was asked to mentor a new team member.


I had led small projects before, but I hadn’t formally had to mentor anyone, so this was as much a learning experience for me as it was for them. We had some fits and starts as we went, however between us, we established a pattern of me listening to their challenges, asking smart questions that got them to reframe their problems, and then some suggestions of where to look for more information.


he tangata

I’ve come to realise that something that runs as a thread through all my work is a real interest in and focus on the people factor. There is a great Maori proverb

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

Or to put it another way, “What is the most important thing? It is people! It is people! It is people!”

While this is very true when we’re talking about mentoring people in their roles, I interpret this in a broader context; we deal with people on so many levels.

Leadership capability framework

Being a good leader means being able to identify the roles you need, selecting people with the aptitude to fill those roles, and then supporting their growth in terms of knowledge and skills. I represent this with the people–skills axis in the leadership capability patterns.


Some leadership patterns relating to people

  • Motivation: To achieve a great team, they need to have autonomy, mastery, and purpose (ref. Dan Pink) – help them to wean themselves off dependence on you, to be the best they can be in their core knowledge domains, and inspire them with a vision for why they should care about the work they do.
  • Confidence: Beyond this, encourage them to express themselves confidently, and for yourself, have the confidence to be challenged by them. As a leader we can always be better at that too.
  • Life is not binary: When thinking about people on your team, avoid thinking in binary terms, that people are either good contributors or bad contributors. Sometimes, those who appear to be contributing may actually be living off the work their less assertive colleagues.
  • Listening: Ensure you listen to the team, and that they listen to each other, with regular team gatherings (recommend fortnightly, maybe lunch-and-learn) and one-to-one catch-ups to develop and reinforce a relationship.
  • Professional development: Be clear on the competencies required in the team, to understand where each person is on their personal journey, and to look at ways of gaining some of that experience from the tasks they have to do (remember the 70/20/10 model); that is, 70% from learning on the job through challenging assignments, 20% from relationships and community; and just 10% from coursework and training).

I think of this as the first capability level in the leadership capability patterns, focusing on people and what they need to complete the tasks they do.

Explore the related articles in this series:

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