What makes a great leader? Is it an ability to build confidence in and inspire others, while at the same time constantly challenging them to raise their standards and skills and perform at the top level? It may be some amalgamation of these kinds of qualities that make a good, strong leader.
Being a leader can be very difficult and stressful but also highly rewarding. If you’re the leader of a new organization your often thrust into the spotlight and the example you set and the decisions you make while under pressure will be scrutinized. Others will look to you to have the answers to tough questions and expect you to know what to do when things go wrong. Maybe you’re taking over as a successor to a previous leader and the team is unsure if you’ll be able to fill the prior leaders’ shoes. You may find yourself in new and sometimes hostile territory while having your own uncertainties, fears, and doubts.
A Manager or a Leader
What is the difference between a manager and a leader? A good way to describe how these roles differ is to use a construction job analogy: the worker on a construction site is busy cutting down trees and brush and preparing building materials. The manager’s job is to support the worker, helping to keep him on task, making sure he doesn’t step out of line and is following proper procedures. The leader would be the person who climbs the highest tree, scans the area and analyzes whether they are headed in the right direction. The leader’s job is to have the 40,000-foot view and point the way forward. The manager can assist the leader and the leader should be aware of how operations on the ground are progressing. For example, are there any issues hindering the team, are things moving at the proper pace or have things slowed to a halt? How is the vision being executed?
A good leader understands they cannot complete the vision on their own. They need to be confident in the vision they have laid out for the future of the organization and then go about making sure they have lined up the resources to plan and execute it. A strong leader will mentor others and inspire them to believe in their goals and motivate them to channel their energy properly towards achieving that success, even if it means going outside their comfort zone. An effective leader is best able to inspire others by leading by example and not being afraid to hold themselves to the same high standards they expect others to meet.
Communication is Key
When looking at highly talented leaders one thing that is important is the ability to communicate well with others. Whether that be successfully communicating ideas for strategy or simply making others feel appreciated and welcome. As a leader, you need to learn effective communication skills especially if you are someone who has social anxiety or are an introvert. There are tons of resources out there for how to develop better communication and interpersonal skills, suffice to say learning to be a good listener also makes one a better communicator. Without being able to articulate your vision and build relationships with key people that you will need to rely on and delegate to, you will never be able to get your vision executed. Practice makes perfect. Ask for feedback from others, be willing to accept you may be part of the problem, and take the appropriate steps to fix it.
Having a vision is not unique, many people have dreams for the future. One of the key differences of a leader is having the ability to turn that vision into reality. You have your vision; you have secured what you need to launch it and you have come up with a mission statement. You have a strategy and a plan, but now what? How do you actually make it happen? In order to execute the plan in a sound and viable way, leaders need to: appoint key people to lead the delivery; confirm that the plan is based on correct assumptions; breakdown the output into deliverables; sequence the activity and confirm a timeline; manage the organizations resources and set standards of acceptable performance and then monitor them. One of the most important qualities of a good leader is the ability to recruit good people and identify talented people who simply need their skills honed. A strong leader isn’t worried about hiring people who are more capable than himself because a good leader puts the organization first.
Being able to breakdown massive projects into sub-projects and deliverables is also key to successful implementation and follow-through. Learning how to scale projects and add personnel or resources as needed. Once you have identified the deliverables, you can then sub-divide each one further to detail the specific activities that must be completed, then come up with the timeline for completion.
Forming the Dream Team
The modern globalized technological age has been terrible for American workers, but it has also provided the ability for people all over the world to come together and collaborate on projects on a massive scale. It’s important for teams to be able to work together in today’s fast-paced modern world. For a machine to work, each part must be well-oiled and in its correct place, interacting seamlessly with the other pieces. Teamwork is critical if you want to achieve any vision. No man is an island. A good leader will inspire people to work together and get to know one another and begin to build trust. A good leader will make sure to pair certain people together that have complementary skillsets while keeping hot-headed people away from each other. One way to inspire teamwork is to plan trust-building exercises and encourage cooperation.
Combating the solo, lone wolf mentality and conflicts between individuals can also be hard. Sometimes cliques can form that can quickly turn toxic for the workplace and make others feel shunned. Therefore, keeping the team together is progress. If one person is not meeting the standards of everyone else on the team, a good leader will speak with them and consider pairing them with a mentor that can help them. Leaders need to make sure the team knows what success with look like and that achieving it will require everyone to play their part. The success of any team is dependent on every person within that team achieving what is required of them. To do that, the leaders’ job is to make sure they come together, stay together and work together.
The Environment of Success
Everyone knows that there is a link between performance and mood. When people are sad and depressed, they are not motivated to perform well and have difficulty seeing the importance and goodness in life. They are more apathetic about not only the organization but life in general. Studies have shown an association between mood, creativity, and productivity. Being in a good mood makes people more resilient to failure, they are more likely to keep trying even if they fail the first time. Secondly, positive mood is correlated with adopting more creative strategies to help succeed in tasks. People who are happy are less likely to experience burnout, and express feelings of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.
Trying to make water flow uphill is difficult, just like getting someone who doesn’t like working with others to agree to work with them on a team. If leaders want to bring out the best in others, they need to learn how to identify and tap into their motivations for being there. A great way to do this is to look for win-win propositions and how this benefits the team overall as a whole. No one enjoys feeling like their hard work is not appreciated or being recognized. A good leader will understand how important it is to make sure the team is motivated and has the resources they need to excel. A strong leader should be able to: articulate how helping the team can help the person by creating friendships and making important contacts; gaining experience that can benefit their career; increase their knowledge and skillsets; allow the expression of their values and the ability to do something they love; a sense of accomplishment and achievement.
Respect and Integrity
“The supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it no real success is possible.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Character is critical to leadership. Someone who lacks respect and integrity cannot expect to receive it from others. Negative traits, for example, would be: failing to create an environment of trust; smiling while kicking someone; acting immorally; putting a personal agenda ahead of what is right for the organization and saying one thing but doing another.
Once you have lost your integrity it is nearly impossible to recover it. If you treat people disrespectfully, they will not want to work with you, by contrast, if a leader creates an organization that treats people with respect and kindness, it will attract the best and brightest minds out there. Some positive traits of a leader who acts with integrity are: acting with integrity at all times; admitting to personal shortcomings and mistakes; being dedicated to the organization and mission and treat others with respect and dignity no matter their role; being open to feedback and act on it; choosing to associate with others who act with integrity; and leading by example.
There are no one-size-fits-all answers for what makes an effective and commanding leader. There are tons of resources out there for those of you who are maybe just starting to take a leading role and want to improve and learn. Being able to unite divided people is almost certainly one of the hardest task’s leaders have. If you can find a way to work with your enemy around a common goal, you open pipelines of communication and become partners. A good leader should be able to influence both conflicting people why they should be able to come together around a common goal. Staying calm under pressure and finding positive outlets for stress can all be helpful. A good leader focuses on outcomes and having plans so when something happens, they can be proactive instead of reactive. Passion is the key to a strong and dedicated leader.
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” – Field Marshall Ferdinand Foch