There have been countless articles about what makes a good leader, and experts from Henry Ford to Richard Branson and everyone in between have weighed in on the topic. So when I was recently asked by a colleague to guest write on his blog this subject, my initial thought was “what in the world could I say that hasn’t already been said?”
To get my mind in a creative place, I surrounded myself in silence and allowed my thoughts to wander: I thought about effective historical leaders and their personality traits, reminisced about impressive bosses I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and mused about sports heroes who led their teams to victory despite overwhelming odds. While it was a great exercise, it didn’t result in any conclusion other than that there are a myriad of traits that effective leaders possess.
With that in mind, I decided to shy away from listing the attributes that that famous leaders have displayed throughout time. Instead, I thought it better list a few key qualities that I not only admire in leaders, but aspire to myself:
Listen – This is a fairly obvious quality for a leader, but a difficult one to master. Too many times we appear to be listening while we are really formulating our response. Take steps to ensure you are listening with the intent to understand rather than with the intent to reply.
Get Uncomfortable – Ask your associates for honest feedback – and mean it. When you put yourself in a position to be exposed, you become a real person to your subordinates. This vulnerability gives you the opportunity to connect on a human-to-human level from a position of confidence. Weak people don’t ask for or want candid feedback.
Care – Take time every day to see your team members as real people. Ask sincere questions about their family, their passions, and their personal goals – and look them in the eye when they answer. Your associates have lives outside of the work they do on behalf of your passion – express a personal interest in the people they are beyond that work.
Embrace the Oops – Grant your team the security to make mistakes and learn from them. By allowing your team members to make the occasional blunder and, more importantly, learn from them, you both empower and develop them.
Be Slow to Solve for People – When team members invariably ask you how to handle an issue, situation, or business matter, resist the urge to tell them how you would do it. Instead, ask them how THEY would handle it. It not only provides you with some great insight to how your team members problem solve, it creates a true culture of collaboration where people feel valued.
Protect the Culture – There are many job functions that can be taught: processes, procedures, systems, forms, etc. However, no matter effect the teacher, attitude cannot be learned. Show your team that you will preserve your culture by bringing in the right people, not just the right skills.
Obviously there are endless attributes exhibited by effective leaders so this list is not exactly exhaustive. The five points do, however, are great reminders as business owners and leaders continue to press their organizations forward.
One final thought – don’t confuse management with leadership. Management is focused on tasks. Leadership is focused on people. And people should always trump tasks.