Are great leaders born or made?
That is a question that has been plaguing people from the beginning of time. It is the issue discussed in books such as “From Good to Great” and “Winning.”
The answer is a little of both. Some people seem to naturally develop at a younger age some key leadership skills while others need the proverbial coconut to hit them on the head before they develop the traits. Some never do.
How ever you evolve as a leader, here are the top traits you need to possess:
1) You must have consequences to raise trust and accountability.
I can’t tell you how many corporations I work with that have no consequences when people don’t follow procedure or undermine the system in any way. In one corporation I was working with our program was to start at 8 AM with the executive team. When he looked around and saw they weren’t there, he said, “Well they are all big boys. They know the time.” Essentially he was saying he wasn’t going to hold them accountable for time but instead was going to have them self monitor.
The reality is that your company can NOT have consequences at the lowest level if there are no consequences at the highest level. You have to have some principles that you adhere to strongly and make sure others do as well.
It is much like parenting. You need to know which items are worth going to war on and which are merely skirmishes.
Ask yourself, “How good am I at holding people’s feet to the fire?”
2) You must be candid and caring.
You can’t have an innovative, creative, and enriched organization if you can’t have candid and direct conversations. You must be able to talk about the proverbial elephant in the room WITHOUT being judgmental.
Organizations are a lot like a person. Each one takes on a corporate culture or personality that allows it to run. This means that past hurts, judgments, history, and frustrations keep resurfacing unless they are dealt with effectively.
Most corporations deal with these by “allowing” different departments and different people to operate under different rules. This works about as effectively as you telling your three year old that they can have a treat at the store but that your six year old can’t have a treat. Of course the three year old is going to want to flaunt in the face of the six year old, “look what I got that you didn’t get.” How can you expect to create an organization of trust if that is happening?
Please realize that candid doesn’t mean saying whatever you want whenever you want and assuming others ought to be able to “take it.” Instead it means you must be able to talk about issues in a safe and open way that allows people to be vulnerable and honest without being ashamed.
Ask yourself, “Are my meetings ones where all players speak up and people leave energized?”
3) You must be congruent.
This means all aspects of your life, style and communication must tie in to each other. I know of one organization where the company had little trust and respect with each other. It came out that the CEO was having an affair with his assistant. Now even though you may say that is his business and no one else’s it did put others in a sticky spot. What were they to say to his wife at the parties? Where they suppose to cover up for him when he was gone? And if he would treat his wife this way, what would he do behind our backs?
You must realize as the leader that the view others have of your company or your department is based on the view they have of you. Does it match what you want?
Ask yourself, “Does the view people have of me match how I want my company perceived?”
4) You must have clarity in all you say and do.
You need to be able to help people decipher through all the messages to understand what they need to do, what you want them to do, and how it impacts the company or department. If people can’t clearly understand what you are saying they can not accurately execute. If they can’t execute, that means you have essentially have a lot of ideas floating around with no action or sporadic action happening.
This means you become a sit and spin organization filled with useless meetings. Ask yourself, “Are we a company of lots of meetings with no action?”
5) You must be able to coach others.
Now this one is a fine line. I don’t mean being able to demonstrate what you need others to do and I don’t mean you need to be able to tell others what to do. You need to be able to show others how to THINK so they can do it for themselves.
Too many leaders TELL others what they need to do. If you do this than the accountability and the results are always your problem not theirs. This also allows people to participate in turf wars with you as the head litigator.
You must get them to reflect on their behavior, attitude or choices and show them how to think at an executive level so they create their own solution. This will bring greater accountability and ownership at all levels.
Ask yourself, “How good am I at building the confidence and skill in others so they become stronger leaders in the company?”
6) Stop trying to have right answers and start asking the right questions.
As the leader, your role is to set up the guidelines so that people know what to do and how to do it. Your job is to be up in the trees clearing the path for those that are in the trenches.
This means you have to be able to synchronize what you see up in the trees with what they see down on the ground. If you don’t do this you may give direction and guidance that can’t be followed. This will lead to people feeling that you are out of touch with the reality of the front lines.
Remember clarity? This is where it is imperative that you can clearly communicate what you see from the trees in relationship to what they have happening on the ground. You must unite the two.
Ask yourself, “How can I ask better questions and align all areas in the company?”
7) Be passionate about what you do.
How can you expect others to be passionate about your product or services when you yourself don’t exhibit that passion? Your energy, creativity and belief in all you do has to be felt by all in the organization.
You are essentially the head cheerleader.
Ask yourself, “What am I passionate about?”
8) Be a steward of philanthropy.
Part of the core of a company is the belief that you do things because it is the right thing to do. That means employees need to see that you have beliefs and causes that you follow because they fit you. This generosity of spirit lets them know that you believe in giving back as well as getting.
Now this doesn’t mean that you push others to support your concerns or that you throw the company’s weight behind your beliefs. It does mean that you show you have enough passion and interests in something outside the company and that you feel accountable as a person to honor that belief.
Ask yourself, “What does giving back mean to me?”
9) Dare to be different.
Let your creativity fly and be willing to search out the blue oceans for your company. Encourage others around you to explore all sides of a problem or challenge. Look for innovative ways to spark the creativity and uniqueness of your office.
I have a client that allows people to bring their pets to work one day a week. I have another that has the banana award for creativity. And one that has a pool table so employees can take a quick break and shoot a game of pool to spark their juices.
Ask yourself, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”
10) Be authentic in your integrity and character.
Employees can spot a phony leader a mile away. These are the people that put stickers on your notes yet they also stand at your cubical and yell at you in front of others. Or they say “great idea” in a meeting and then roll their eyes behind your back.
In order to make sure each person in your company brings their full character and integrity in to the office you need to bring yours. They will “show up” at the office and maintain loyalty as long as they believe in the company and what they are doing there.
If you bring yourself fully to the role as a leader than there is no reason why you can’t expect that of all players in your company.
Ask yourself, “How authentic do others see me?”
To be a great leader you need to continually strive to learn, grow and stretch yourself. Ask yourself, “How can I expect my team to continually strive to grow if they don’t see me constantly moving my performance up to the next level?”