Attributes That Make a Great Leader
Building leadership skills take humility, courage, and discipline. When I think about the attributes of the best leader I have ever worked with, I realize he used a servant leadership philosophy to manage his team. Traditional leaders exercise power to achieve results. By comparison, the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps his/her people develop and perform as executives. Servant leaders use their power to benefit the people they lead.
The foundation of a servant leader is integrity, which inspires trust. If a leader trusts his/her team, their team will believe in them. Successful leaders show stamina and are tactical, strategic and maintain a positive attitude. These managers empower their team to make decisions, set expectations and evaluate performance. They listen to their staff and serve them. As a result, their teams follow them.
The best leader I ever worked for was not perfect, but he was consistent in his approach and allowed me to do my job. Below is a list of competencies that he possessed that I believe were the most valuable in making him successful.
- Leaders remain focused and control their emotions
We face a million distractions in the office each day. If we allow ourselves to lose focus on the priorities, we will become overwhelmed and fail. If we plan our goals, define how we will achieve them, and follow up on the progress regularly, we will stay focused on the targets and be successful. Controlling our emotions plays a significant role in remaining focused. When we lose our temper, we lose focus.
2. Let go of the past
So often in business, we believe we have tried something once and if what we tried failed we think we should never try it again. The industry needs change, and they are cyclical. What did not work ten years ago may easily be what is needed today. One example of this was the demise of Montgomery Ward. In 1872, the retailer opened as the first catalog retailer in the world. The company served the needs of the rural customer and quickly became the largest mail-order company in the world. They never changed their approach and ultimately closed the mail order business rather than take the leap that Amazon made to put all their merchandise online. This may be an extreme example, yet we all have examples where we have said, “we tried that once, and it did not work.” I say time to try it again using a different approach.
- Take ownership
Leaders are only as effective as how much they put on their plate. That does not mean doing the work but does mean owning the results good or bad. If something goes wrong the leader steps in and helps fix the problem. If the team or team member makes a mistake, the leader is responsible and must take ownership, and then ensure the team or team member learns from his/her mistake.
- Stay out of your own way (Build a mature ego)
When we first begin as leaders, our egos are immature and we often try to show off our success to our superiors. In some ways doing so works because the acclaim we receive is part of what motivates us to succeed. However, showing off can also be a problem for us as we take our eye off the ball and start worrying about winning and losing our status. Rather than worrying about the commendations you might receive for doing something special, just do the work and your reward will come later as your ego matures.
- Communicate and praise
I can’t say enough about how important it is to communicate to your team. Communicate your goals and strategy. Recite the company’s mission and vision at every opportunity. Meet with your staff members one-on-one on a regular weekly or bi-weekly schedule. Provide your employees with feedback and praise. Walk the floor and say good morning or afternoon. Learn about your employees likes and dislikes and any personal info they want to share. Talk with them about what makes them happy and they will be happy employees and know that you care about them as a person as well as an employee.
- Support your team
The team is the whole game and everyone on the team needs to feel as important as the other guy. The moment the leader or others are out for themselves and their own win, the leader and the team loses. Make sure the work is spread around to all team members and not just to your favorite team member. The only way employees learn effectively is by doing. They can’t do if you play favorites and give the work to only one person.
- Simplify – Business can be simple.
We deliver something people want and charge them for the service. But how we do that can get complicated in a hurry. Here’s the catch: A complicated plan is hard to communicate with our teams, and that makes it hard for them and us to win. Look at your business processes and see what you can eliminate. Get rid of checking the checkers – people who check to see if other people did their jobs. Hold people accountable for what they should be doing and streamline the processes. You will find the improved execution of the processes and reduced cost by eliminating the labor used for complicated processes.
- Empower your people.
Leaders delegate. That’s a fact. However, they don’t just delegate, they train, empower and communicate in clear effective language employees responsibilities and expectations. Empowerment allows leaders to take on more tasks than one person can do. When leaders do not empower their people they will fail or get frustrated and quit.
- Listen to your stakeholders
We all have stakeholders. Stakeholders could be our boss, customers, direct reports, peers or anyone that we work with on a regular basis. Completing an annual 360 evaluation with your stakeholders would provide you with some outstanding feedback that you could use to improve your skills. This 360 can be as simple as sending out a note to ask for feedback or a little more professional by contacting a certified coach to prepare and send out an anonymous request for feedback. The most important step is to provide a response to your stakeholders after receiving the feedback as to steps you will take to correct any deficiencies that were pointed out to you.
- Admit when you are wrong
When you are wrong admit to your team that you have made an error and want to correct it. This shows you are human and provides some confidence to your team that they too can try something new and will not get chastised if they make a mistake. They will see that you have humility and courage and will value you more as their leader for admitting you made a mistake.
My favorite boss was a class act guy who was a leader with courage, humility, and discipline. He displayed all the competencies I have listed about, yet it is important to note that there were still a few actions he took where he could have had a greater sense of awareness about what his stakeholders needed. This is an important distinction because we learn to be better leaders every day by the actions we take. The next time your leader does something that you think is not right, remember that he/she too is still maturing his/her ego and method of leadership.
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