Times have changed…and so have some of the attributes that make great leaders. Now more than ever, the world is looking for leaders to show us the way and guide us through these challenging times.
So…what makes for a great leader? Do you need a title like manager, director, president or CEO attached to your name? How is it different in today’s “leadership suite” than it was before?
There is no shortage of books, lists and articles addressing the traits that make a great leader, and all are worth reading and taking to heart. But based on my experience in more than 30 years of business, here’s my personal top 10 qualities of leadership:
- Real, genuine, self-aware, “are who they are”
- Consistent, level-headed, thoughtful
- Outwardly focused, not just about their own agendas
- Good communication skills, truly listen to others
- Flexible and willing to change
- Take calculated risks, learn from their failures
- Big-picture, forward thinking
- Confident without being perceived as arrogant
- High integrity and honesty
- Skilled at building relationships.
Great leaders know they can’t do it alone. They understand that working collaboratively with others is far more effective than the old-school style of strong-fisted, fiery, authoritarian leadership. Listening, giving others a voice, and adapting to new ideas help tremendously in building meaningful relationships with others, which can have multiple payoffs for everyone. And that helps create something that is critical to all of this: trust.
How is it different in the leadership role today? More and more, successful leaders at the top of organizations are out in front of their people (and their customers). The really good ones get to know their teams face to face. They go out and meet their customers, building relationships with them to better understand what they need. In turn, being more open and revealing about themselves helps others understand them better and trust them more. In other words, they are seen not as robots, but as real people with family, friends, interests and problems, just like the rest of us.
The same holds true in their relationships and direction of others. The best leaders are adaptable, knowing there is more than one way to get the results — one size does not fit all! Great leaders realize that taking the time to understand each individual’s preferred style of doing things — and their likes, dislikes, wants and needs — is crucial. They know to manage to the individual to get results. This keeps them in tune with what is really going on with their team or organization, and makes them more approachable. And it allows them to do so without having to dig for information in a forced way.
Expectations are everything, especially in great leaders. Leaders who are consistent in their communication, actions and decision-making create a more positive dynamic and are better understood by their team. The criticism I hear most in my role as a workplace consultant goes like this: “I never know what to expect from one day to the next, depending on their mood that day. I’m afraid to take the lead or stick my neck out because I never know how that is going to be received.” Sound familiar? Consistency in your leadership approach can solve a lot of these problems.
One Great Leader
My final thoughts are based on someone who I consider to be the finest leader I have had the pleasure of knowing. He was someone to look up to and admire many years ago, and his style would serve others well today, without a doubt.
Ed was a regional vice president when I was an operations manager for a company in Denver, Colorado. He was the third boss I had been assigned to in a little over a year, and he lived quite a distance from my hub in San Francisco. He didn’t hire me — he inherited me. I rarely saw him, as he’d visit just once a quarter. Yet all nine managers on his team and everyone in his small regional office looked up to him. Why?
Ed treated us all as individuals. He laughed and shared himself personally, maybe even more than he did professionally. When we had quarterly meetings, we always combined work with something fun. Being an avid golfer, the one I enjoyed most was when we got to play on the coast of California. But the one we all universally loved —and learned a lot doing — was the time we went to an old, down-by-the-tracks bowling alley outside of San Jose. Ed paired us off in teams and bought us greasy burgers, fries and a “tasty beverage”…or two or three. He sat back and watched for the first two games, then dove in and joined us on the last two. Later, when I asked him why, he said it was because he wanted to see who dove in, who held back, how we showed our competitive sides and styles, and how we interacted when our guard was down. From that, he knew what he had on his team. And he used that knowledge wisely.
The standard line about Ed was that he really didn’t know much about the technical side of the business, but he knew people. He knew how to motivate, guide and support us to hit our goals while making us feel valued as people, not just as a number. And he never played favorites. Outside his office, we always said that you never knew who was in the penthouse and who was in the outhouse. Behind closed doors, he made it very clear, being totally honest without getting emotional or crushing your spirit when you were off track. Instead, he helped us come up with a plan to get back on the right path. When that was over, we moved on, working hard as a team and helping each other out.
We loved the guy. He had the “it” factor. And he had “it” because of some of the qualities listed at the beginning of this article. Ed lived those every day. Now it’s your turn! iBi