You are what you do…
“All leaders are inspired by those they admire. Reading about them and studying their traits inevitably allows an inspiring leader to develop their own traits.”
Leaders, like the rest of us are all different. That’s a strength, for leaders, followers and of course, their organisations. Although leaders’ personalities will differ, there are certainly traits that they should all hold dear and spend time developing:
Believe in what you are embarking on. You are the embodiment of the plan. Passion and enthusiasm are inspirational qualities, they will ensure the team moves with you and achieves great things. Believing in the importance of the job will endow it with value, allowing you to better engage and inspire your team members. You alone are the key to the emotional side of what you are undertaking. Emotional involvement from your team will deliver even greater results. People will go the extra mile for something, and someone, they believe in.
A leader is nothing without credibility. Trust is the invisible glue that will hold your organisation together – nurture it. Develop the trust of your team members, bosses, and other stakeholders by being truthful and direct at every stage of the process. Being known as a leader who is honest will allow you to better deal with conflict.
A compassionate leader is successful because they (genuinely) care about people and fostering a positive environment that allows the team to flourish by maintaining an appropriate work-life balance. An unfortunate side-effect of modern corporate culture is that people brag about skipping meals, getting too little sleep, or otherwise competing to work harder than the next person at the expense of their own life and health. In military circles, where a macho ‘Spartan’ culture is commonplace, the great leaders know that ‘sleeping and eating are duties’. A tired team will not perform; lead from the front in setting the standards of work and rest that you expect from your team. Furthermore, you must take time to get to know your team members as individuals; you will not only engage with them on a human level and make sure they’re eating dinner each night, but you will also learn how to best leverage their talents and expertise for the good of the project. Talented, forward-thinking people want to work for leaders who truly care about their employees and communities.
You are responsible for setting the direction of travel and you alone can communicate your vision and expectations to your team. You must therefore be explicit in directions as well as in articulating the broader message or picture. Ambiguity is frustrating; be clear about the organisation’s goals, your expectations and your own role as the leader. Revisit the project’s focus frequently. Your environment is dynamic and will change over time; maintenance of clarity is your responsibility.
You will deal with ‘wicked problems’. You will find yourself in situations with many possible courses of action. Procrastination will cause organisational paralysis. Therefore do the analysis, make a decision and get on with it. This can be a scary thought, because as the leader you are responsible for the outcome and the decisions that lead to it; moving forward is always better than being stuck in the mud – avoiding ‘analysis paralysis’ is key.
The best leaders seek input from all stakeholders, from the client to the partners to the paper-pushers. Share your vision, accept feedback in many forms and delegate responsibility as well as certain low- and mid-level decisions to make sure everyone feels like part of the process. Understand each individual’s strengths, and put them in a position to succeed. By giving each member ownership over their own effort, you’ll empower them to do their best work allowing them to demonstrate their dedication and expertise.
Knowledge is power…share it! By sharing knowledge, expectations, conflicts and advice, you’ll keep your team working on the right projects with the right attitude. Be prepared to explain your decisions and encourage your team to challenge your analysis before you make a decision, thereafter they should support you 100%. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ (see humility below). You do not have the monopoly on the wisdom, so take advice from whoever is best placed to give it, regardless of age, gender, expertise and seniority.
Taking (calculated) risks is one of the defining traits of all great leaders – you must be prepared to take them. Build a team you trust and push on. Everyone makes mistakes, they occur in every situation, in every environment, and under every leader. Learn from those mistakes and move on.
Confrontation is tough, but when someone doesn’t deliver, you must have the courage to deal. This could involve reassignment of tasks or individuals, whatever it involves it is your responsibility to deal. You must expect your team members to deliver on their commitments and in turn they must expect you to deliver on yours. Do what you say you are going to do; lead by example: If you make a mistake, own it and address it immediately.
As the leader, you are responsible for the entire outcome, but that doesn’t mean you’re the only one who got there. Give credit where it is due, and let go of your need to achieve personal satisfaction through praise. Celebrate the successes of your team members.
“The history of the world is full of men who rose to leadership by sheer force of self confidence, bravery and tenacity”