As a leader, you’ve got a million things to think about. At the end of the day, the buck stops with you and that comes with a lot of responsibility. Even though that’s the case, you can’t do it alone.
Great leaders are able to build teams of people who understand the vision, can execute on the strategy, and can get results. This doesn’t just happen; it takes a lot of skill, empathy, and persuasion to empower and enable teams to get to their best. At the end of the day, it comes down to your character.
A few questions to consider:
- How are you showing up at work?
- Have you taken the time to understand your teams?
- What are the intrinsic values and norms for your team?
It’s okay if you answered ‘no’ to one of the preceding questions. This article will explore some of the most important traits the most effective leaders embody. The result is a team that is highly motivated and committed to pushing the boundaries for what’s possible.
Traits of Great Leaders
Communication is one of those traits that creates a domino effect for so many others. Much of the inefficiency, conflict, frustration, and poor performance comes down to whether a team has achieved structure and clarity.
As a leader, employees look to you for guidance and support. The expectation from employees is that you operate with the ultimate poise, where you do not portray having all of the answers, but rather, you display patience and vulnerability when you do not have the answer.
Google’s Aristotle project pointed out is everyone should understand what is expected of them with clearly defined roles. Or as Nick Saban would state, “do your job!”
In almost all businesses, speed is a crucial variable that predicts success. If you are able to remain agile and forward-thinking as you scale, you give yourself a much better chance of remaining relevant in a changing world.
As a leader, therefore, you must be comfortable with making decisions (often without all the details) and running with them. Your job, to a large extent, is to take in information you’re provided with and map a course. The faster you do it, the more momentum you’ll be able to build as a team, and the faster you’ll learn.
Remember no one is expecting you, as the manager, to have all the answers. Especially in today’s world where the target is constantly moving. Always remember, it’s more advantageous to make a mistake and reroute course than to stay docked, immobilized by over analysis.
A good leader is someone who can see an employee for more than their work performance. We are all humans at the end of the day, and an empathetic leader who genuinely cares about their employees is going to be much more effective than one who sees them as pieces on a chess board.
Empathy is a superpower; it really is. By showing a caring nature, you build rapport and real relationships with your employees – this trust improves overall morale to an incredible extent.
Unfortunately, according to Gallup 67% of employees do not trust their managers. It’s no wonder production at companies has remained constant despite the adoption of technological advances that are supposed to improve the rate of performance.
Businesses are about people, so treat them like people – not like robots.
As a leader of an organization, you are the figurehead. You are the person everyone looks to and takes their cues from. Therefore, optimism is an especially powerful trait because it breeds optimism throughout the entire company.
No matter how things are going, an optimistic mindset is one that can drag a company through difficult times. Running a business is hard, and most of them fail, so you have to be an optimist to believe that you have a chance. That belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when you propagate it throughout the organization. It’s a rallying cry about where the company is going, and it’s a type of confidence that can empower your employees to perform at their best.
However, do not confuse optimism with delusion. Great leaders have stated, “optimism with a dash of practicality keeps the soldiers at bay.”
Being willing to take accountability for everything in your company is a key part of being a leader. Leaders tend to get a lot of the credit for business successes, but only strong leaders are able to stand up in times of turmoil and take responsibility when things go wrong.
Regardless of what happens behind the scenes, a leader who can take accountability shows their employees that they are a united front, and that the leader stands with them through thick and thin.
Sometimes you have to act as a shield to protect your employees so that they can continue to do what needs to be done. This requires a tough skin, of course, but it’s a crucial trait of any good leader. Navy seal Jocko Willink calls it ‘Extreme Ownership.’
It doesn’t matter whose fault it is – as a leader you must step up and own that responsibility.
To keep employees happy, motivated, and engaged – it’s important that leaders are able to delegate in a way that empowers those who work with them, while still providing the guidance and direction that they need to get the job done.
It’s a fine line, and one that differs with every employee. Some will need more direct supervision; some are much happier to run with things on their own. Good leaders are able to fine-tune their delegation based on the person, the context, and what is being asked of them. If you get this wrong, then you risk alienating your employees, and they can become resentful as a result.
Employees want to be empowered to make their own decisions, and so you need to show them trust wherever possible. It’s easier said than done, but that’s what scales your business properly and removes bottlenecks.
A leader has to be able to wear a multitude of hats and adjust their behavior depending on what is required of them in various situations. The way you act in the boardroom is going to be very different to how you act around the water cooler, for example. Even though that’s the case, it’s important that your values, character, and overall persona remain consistent throughout.
You need to be authentically you by not putting on a different mask every time you’re interacting with different people. If you’re trying to be someone that you’re not, people will spot it from a mile away. It’s immediately transparent.
Good leaders are not afraid of who they are, and they let their true personality shine through no matter what the scenario. It not only makes you more approachable and relatable, but it builds trust with all those around you.
Simple, but effective.
Another key component that can greatly affect employee morale is how approachable you are as a leader.
Employees might not feel comfortable bringing up an issue with their immediate boss because they control their paycheck and seemingly hold the power in the relationship. Good leaders must be able to dismantle this, to some extent, and be approachable enough that employees feel comfortable bringing issues to them.
This comes from setting a precedent that you want to receive communication from them, you will make yourself available where possible, and that the job title should not preclude them from conversing with you.
Lots of leaders will shout from the rooftops about their ‘open-door’ policy but unless those words are backed up with action, it doesn’t mean anything. After all, what good is a door being open, if no one feels comfortable walking through.
The paradigm shift you have to make is that you are there to serve your employees. Your job is to give them every opportunity to go and do incredible work; therefore, come down from the ivory tower and be someone who employees are more than happy to approach.
As a leader, you have the bird’s eye view of the organization. You can step out of the weeds and see things from a wider perspective. Your employees are likely to be focused entirely on the next task in front of them and because they don’t have the context that you do, they rely on you to steer the ship.
You have to think long-term as a leader. You can’t get caught up in the urgent, short-term fires that have to be put out every day. Your role is to plan for the future and nudge the ship in the direction you want to go. If you have this in mind and are doing it effectively, your employees can trust that everything is going as planned and they can keep working hard. When they see that you don’t have that mindset, they tend to hesitate as they try to see the long-term plan for themselves. The company vision is yours to control.
Set a course and play the long-term game, that’s why you’re there.
Putting it All Together
These are some of the most important traits you need to have as a leader in order to effectively motivate and inspire your employees. They don’t come naturally in most instances, but they can be learned, practiced, and implemented to improve your performance.
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