Being a real leader is more than just a place on an org chart
In an earlier blog post entitled “No Trust = No Leader”, I explained the importance of trust in a leaders relationship with his or her team. Those in a position of authority know that they must earn the respect and trust of their team to be effective.
Over the course of my corporate career, as well as my career as a leadership keynote speaker, I have had the opportunity to observe, work for and learn from some great business leaders. I also worked for some (not many fortunately), who held a leadership position on an organization chart “only” but had no clue about what it takes to be a real leader. They were an “empty suit”. They looked good, but there was no substance.
This post is “part two” of our discussion on how a leader builds further upon his relationship with his team. From my experiences with the “best leaders” I have known, I have compiled what I believe is an additional list of the most important leadership characteristics, when combined, make for an effective leader. There are other characteristics that can be added to the list (watch for future posts). In that regard, I would be interested in hearing your views.
With all of this as background, let’s get started on your leadership journey.
1. Leaders know they are judged not by what they say but by what they do – simply stated, leaders value actions over words. They know that they must lead by example. They know (I hope they do) that people – their team, peers, bosses and even competitors and adversaries are always watching them. Leaders know that talk is cheap and that the right action, at the right time gets things done. As such, in addition to providing direction and instructions, leaders know that they have to act in a way that reflects what they believe in and supports their vision.
2. Leaders define reality and responsibilities – one cannot move to a better place until they know or define the place they are in – in the most specific way possible. Why? Because important decisions needed to move forward will be based upon the current reality. Plus, in order for others to see the value of moving forward, the leader must make certain that they understand, as clearly as possible, the reality of the current situation. With reality accurately defined and understood by all, the leader is then in an excellent position to assign responsibilities to each team member to move the organization forward.
3. Leaders set performance expectations and hold people accountable to get the job done – Leaders know that their primary role is to make things happen. The most basic responsibility of every leader is to set expectations. Expectations, when met, make things happen! Yet, many do not make full use of this very valuable tool. Expectations set in motion the steps needed to be taken and reached in order to make the leaders vision the new reality. People will achieve the expectations set for them only if they are held accountable to do so. I don’t mean held accountable in a negative sense – although that is a possibility and sometimes necessary – but rather in a positive motivational way. People perform best; are the most satisfied, when they see themselves making progress. In holding people accountable, a leader acknowledges and helps them see their progress.
4. Leaders find ways to challenge their team to help them grow and “stretch” their capabilities – a leader knows that if he gets better, his organization will automatically follow and get better. He or she also knows that if an individual team member gets better, the entire team will benefit. This dynamic of improving the team through the improvement of each individual member was best described by noted author Rudyard Kipling when he wrote “the strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf”. Each team member is dependent on each other for the collective success. In addition, an effective leader knows that none of his team members (including him) are working to their fullest capabilities. His recognizes that as each member gets better, they are beginning to tap into and “stretch” their capabilities.
5. Leaders reward the right actions – the right actions are those that move the organization closer to the vision that the leader has created. Some will be significant but most of these actions will be performed daily as part of the usual routine. If the leader has done a good job in defining reality; creating the vision for the future; assigning responsibilities; setting expectations and holding people accountable, then, it will be very easy to recognize and reward the right actions.
6. Leaders never accept “below average” and act quickly when poor performance has been identified –Regardless of how good a leader is or how well intentioned they are, the decision to follow him and meet the expectations he has set is a personal one made by each employee. However, just like it is easy to find and reward the right actions, a poor performing employee will be painfully obvious. When that occurs, a leader must take quick and decisive action to remedy the situation. This remedy could involve additional training and guidance and it may involve more serious actions like a probationary period or termination. If a leader puts off taking timely action, they run the risk of sending a dangerous message to the better performers on his team – namely, “I will tolerate less than acceptable levels of job performance so you don’t have to work that hard”.
7. Leaders know how important it is to listen to what their team members have to say – effective leaders know that one of the best ways to engage their team members is to listen to them – about their job concerns; job challenges and their suggestions about how things can be improved. The team is on the line; doing the work. They have a valuable perspective to offer, and an effective leader wants to hear what they have to say. Their comments may lead to business improvements that the leader might not otherwise know about. As I wrote in a prior post “No trust = No leader”, effective listening builds trust. Trust builds or strengthens relationships and strong relationships are the foundation of healthy team. Healthy teams are focused and get results. They perform for their leader; because they want to, not because they have to.
These are challenging times; and it appears that the challenges will be with us for some time to come. Anne Mulchay, CEO of Xerox, said it best when she commented – “There is not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders”.
So, what should you do now? Simple…conduct your own self examination to evaluate how well you are leading your team. Ask yourself how well you stack up against the 7 points I have listed here. Now is the time for you to take some action on how you can become a better leader. Remember what I said earlier, when the leader gets better, so does the team and ultimately the business follows. The one fact you must keep in mind is that you (in fact all of us) can always be better – if we chose to be.
Conducting this type of business self analysis can be challenging. Sometimes it’s hard to be objective when you are looking at yourself and your job performance. Not sure where to start? Let me give you the answer – call me. Let me help you create the plan that gets you the best results in the most reasonable timeframe. Maybe we can discuss how I can help you through a leadership coaching program or through some focused executive coaching. Whatever we do, it will be designed to teach you how to improve your leadership skills and, at the same time, improve your company’s profitability by boosting your team’s performance. Or, maybe the solution is for me to visit your company as a professional motivational (and humorous) business speaker and present a custom designed presentation to move you and your company’s leadership team to the next level. A simple call gets this started. Like I said before, “leaders know that their primary role is to get things done” – starting with themselves!