When asked to define leadership, certain descriptors immediately come to mind.
You think passionate, focused, driven, trustworthy, persuasive and able to persevere.
The word “leader” may make you think of trail blazers, business titans, political figures, coaches or maybe that one person who was a meaningful mentor in your life.
In fact, I think we could all produce countless examples of successful leaders who were very different in their styles.
Leadership may be one of those concepts that we recognize when we see it, but is much harder to pin down or define. Still, there are several traits that underlie most leadership styles. To me it comes down to the following:
As I ponder effective leadership, I always come back to the concept of authenticity. Being authentic is the most important character trait a leader can exhibit. What I mean by that is “know what works for you” and “use your strengths to your advantage.” When you try to be something you are not, you damage your credibility with employees, peers, and clients.
While a good part of leadership is natural, coming easier to some than others, every manager can increase his or her effectiveness through self-reflection and study. Good leadership absolutely requires a certain amount of introspection and, yes, some research and practice.
We practice to become better athletes or musicians, so why shouldn’t we practice how to be better leaders? Understanding the areas where you need to grow and making it a priority to read and engage in continuous training will make you a stronger and more effective leader.
Surround Yourself With Good People and Put Them in a Position to Succeed
This starts with the hiring process, as most problems can be avoided by thoughtful, smart hiring. People tend to hire in their own image, and you need to keep that in mind as you recruit staff, particularly your top managers. The old saying of “hire people better than you” can be expanded to “hire people who complement your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.”
A few pointers: first, you never want to be caught short-handed, particularly in key positions, so it’s wise to overstaff in high demand, high impact positions. Second, don’t lose the best people over salary. Be willing to pay for the quality employees you want and need. This investment will cost you less in the long run.
Value Your People and Acknowledge Their Worth Regularly
You can’t just pay lip service to this and must work to get managers to extend the philosophy throughout your organization. What does it take? It’s really fairly simple. Listen to your employees’ ideas and leverage their strengths.
You’ll get more from the people you lead when they feel fully engaged and invested. Employees need to trust they are part of your team, that they have a career with you, and that their opinions are respected.
When they see that you value them, they will be more likely to take risks, pursue stretch goals and buy in to the organization’s mission.
Clearly Articulate Your Vision
We can’t expect managers and employees to be excited about a vision they neither know nor understand. Be transparent by being willing to discuss the vision, strategies and tactics; listen to objections and sell your ideas.
Don’t just announce new directions – pave the way with thoughtful and inclusive discussions. Your vision sets the context for operational decisions. People who haven’t had an opportunity to be included in your vision will rarely be enthusiastic about implementing it.
Some Final Thoughts on Traits of Great Leaders
Be mindful of how you work – prepare for meetings, particularly those that may be contentious; think about how you should handle difficult situations; read about leaders whose styles and behaviors you admire and find people with which you can freely discuss issues.
Model and teach the behaviors you want to see within your organization. Then you can go forward as your most authentic self to achieve the effective outcomes you seek.