Leadership – the topic of many books, articles and discussions. Perhaps you’re interested because you head up an organization, or perhaps you’re the head of a team. You might even be interested because you’re in the early stages of your career and you want to know what leadership behaviors to work on in order to achieve your career goal of becoming a great leader one day. Regardless of where you are in your career, you’ll likely be wondering the same questions: What qualities and behaviors set apart good leaders from great leaders? What are the behaviors great leaders consistently exhibit? And can those behaviors be learned or acquired, or are they qualities you have to be born with?
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with and for many different types of leaders. I have seen leaders go from good to great, and I have seen leaders who are able to inspire and positively influence people they not only directly manage but those they do not have a direct responsibility over, too. What follows is a definition of what true leadership is, followed by the 5 behaviors and qualities possessed by all the great leaders I have been fortunate enough to work with, as well as others who I have followed and read about but have not had the opportunity to work with.
Leadership is the ability of a person to lead others. But great leadership is the ability to inspire people to bring forth their highest potential in alignment with a common objective or goal set by the leader. It is the pursuit of this positive outcome that is sought after by people striving to become great leaders. A great leader is able to influence many aspects of an organization – its ethos, creativity, efficient and effective operations and its culture. This is not only beneficial in difficult times, but in good times too, as great leaders encourage the culture and behavior across their organizations (or teams) to produce great returns, be it new discoveries, more efficient working environments or employee loyalty. Of course, when times are difficult, great leadership becomes even more important. Your employees will look to you for reassurance and direction. The importance of the behaviors you exhibit at this time become amplified as all eyes are on you to lead at these critical moments within your career.
Leadership Quality #1 – Great Leaders Communicate
Great leadership is almost synonymous with great communication. Being able to communicate and articulate your message clearly, concisely and in a manner that invokes inspiration in others is a behavior every great leader absolutely must exhibit. This behavior is critical in conveying goals and objectives to people, in getting them to understand why the goals and objectives are important and how they they can contribute to them, and, most importantly, in getting them to want to contribute to them in the first place. Good communication also sets precedence and creates open environments where people feel comfortable sharing ideas. Times will get tough over and over again. And when that happens, as it inevitably will, people will look to leadership for direction, hope, reassurance and strength. Most leaders will choose to communicate less at bad times. Understandably, it is uncomfortable and most (if not all) shareable information will likely be bleak. But a good leader always communicates, even if to say “we’re still figuring it out”. By not communicating, you open the door to rumors, loss of productivity as people try to fill in the narrative expected from you, and potentially higher than required levels of stress and concern, as people naturally associate the lack of communication in bad times as a sign that things are much worse than anticipated.
Leadership Quality #2 – Great Leaders Listen
Great leaders listen to their employees – because these are the people creating your products and delivering your services, and as such will be closest to problems faced and opportunities available and are also closest to your customers. Your employees have so much information and ideas, and when you listen to them, you will undoubtedly come across many practical solutions to the issues your organization faces. Listening to your employees also helps you understand the type of information they wish you hear about from you, their concerns, their areas of focus – all of which should be addressed in some manner by you, whenever and however you choose to communicate with them. When leaders don’t listen to their employees, a disconnect is created from the gap between what is important to employees and what the leaders communicate about. This gap can result in employees feeling unheard, unsupported and uncared for. And that, in turn, will affect your bottom line though attrition, loss of productivity and loss of creative problem solving or drive.
Leadership Quality #3 – Great Leaders Know the Importance of People
Remember that it is the people who make or break your company – your customers and your staff. Employees will treat customers the way they themselves are treated. The companies with the best customer satisfaction scores treat their employees much better than others. They treat them with respect and empathy, empower them, and listen to them. Reputation studies have shown that over the course of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, customers began attributing a better reputation score to organizations that treat their employees fairly. Another thing to consider in case of redundancies is the people who remain, as well as those you make redundant. Don’t underestimate the impact of fear of “being next” on productivity. This is especially important if you are making large manpower cuts. And even more important if you make cuts that include hardworking and intelligent people – things that others will have associated with being safe, possibly from a value-add perspective.
Leadership Quality #4 – Great Leaders are Positive
A great leader is someone who others find inspiring, who they enjoy being around, who they like to listen to and align efforts with. It’s difficult to be that person if you’re not a positive person. A great leader is able to maintain a positive outlook because they look for solutions, not problems. They also maintain their positive and professional demeanor, not just because that is the more professional thing to do, but more importantly because that sets the expectation of everyone else in the organization. People imitate what they see their leaders do. A positive attitude, where people’s voices are heard, failures are not punished, but rather learned from, and where collaboration is encouraged, sets the tone for the culture of the organization, which is absolutely a leader’s responsibility. In hard times, in particular, you’ll need your employees to be able to stay positive, so that solutions can be found, and so that productivity doesn’t fall, and most importantly, so that they work together to keep the organization afloat.
Leadership Quality #5 – Great Leaders Set An Example
By now, it should be apparent that a great leader is also a great role model. Great leaders around the world set an example that others strive to follow. People tend to imitate those that they report into – so you’ll absolutely want their efforts to be something that contribute positively to your organization. In difficult times, it is crucial to keep this important behavior in mind. Be mindful of change you make to your employees salaries, benefits, working hours, etc. and make sure to demonstrate that those expectations are set and modeled by yourself. Your employees need to see that you are also making sacrifices, that you are in the trenches with them and that all the decisions and expectations coming from you are fair and an example to live by.
And one day, when you look around and see your employees creating environments in which they listen to each other, communicate clearly and invoke inspiration in others, valuing one another, maintaining a positive demeanor, mindset and environment, and inspiring people around them, you’ll know you had a little something to do with that.
What leadership qualities do you see leaders struggling with the most? What leadership qualities do you strive to build? Post your comments and any questions below, and if you can help anyone else out, don’t hesitate to do so! As always, if you’ve found this article useful, share it with someone who’ll benefit from it as well!