leadership Manager

Think You're a Leader?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 Peter A. James

We all have had some type of leadership aspirations. For that matter, most of us have aspirations to be THE boss or in charge of something or someone. Some of us are there already. Either you have moved up the ranks or you have been thrust into middle management, a supervisory or team lead role. Yet, what does it take to be a successful leader today at any level? And do today's leaders (especially those we read and listen to often) embody the characteristics that are necessary to be successful in today's ever-changing business environment?

Too often I hear or read about leaders who just should not be in charge of anything. They will treat their employees as sub-humans instead of as respectable individuals; and in the same breath, wonder why work output is the way that it is. Or for that matter, senior leaders who promote a culture that emphasizes customers first instead of employees first. Let me start out by saying that you can be hard-driving and have high expectations, yet be an empathetic and mindful boss. Many leaders (young and old) think that the two cannot intertwine.

And if you are in a leadership position for the money, power or respect, just don't bother reading any further. Unfortunately, I have encountered too many leaders who are more concerned about promotion, stock options or not looking bad in front of their peers or bosses; concerned about showing up on lists or missing the checks on boxes as opposed to providing leniency or empathy when his or her employee is going through a rough stretch. And these negative characteristics are never displayed verbally. They do not have to be, as actions speak much louder than words. This ultimately gets no results from your followers and also pegs you as someone who others do not want to work for. I have to admit, it's not brain science, but there is a bit of psychology to it.

What do you do?

First, it is important to know that all of the characteristics that a great leader had 50 years ago all won't necessarily work now. But many will. In addition, just because you are a great sports coach does not mean that you are cut out to be Regional Vice President. Today’s leaders must be adaptable, yet decisive; open-minded and understanding; and have the ability to think globally, but act locally. But if you are not a leader right now, how do you begin to develop in order to be a great leader? And if you are a current leader, what can you do in order to become better (trust me, there is always room for improvement).

1. Be a great follower

Most people do not realize that the first characteristic of a great leader is to have been identified as a great follower. That being stated, not every follower will make a great leader. But what does it mean to be a great follower?

As a young Army officer, I was thrust into leadership early in life. I have to admit that there were more mistakes than successes during this time, but I learned a heck of a lot. One of the biggest lessons that I learned was to trust in my subordinates. Especially those sergeants who had been there years before me. When I was ready to embrace my ignorance and learn from subordinates, I subsequently became a better leader. And the funny thing is that they thought I was a great leader as a result. When I was ready to put down my leader hat and embrace my follower or learner hat, then I was more respected and understood. Those leaders who don’t let the BOSS title get to their head, are usually the ones that people want to work for.

2. Practice humility

No matter how important you get, how many titles may be behind your name, or how much money you may make, humility is the characteristic that is always appreciated as a leader. People will already know when you are a diamond in the rough. You won't have to tell them. However, being approachable, easy to talk with and a servant will set you apart relatively quickly. Also remember, as the boss, you are ultimately responsible for all of your teams or company's results and/or outcomes.

What does this humility look like in action? Giving your employees credit for a job well done. Going above and beyond when no one asks you to (or no one sees you). Always putting others before yourself. Note the word that permeates throughout each of these phrases - give. This is the word behind humility. The ability to give credit before you accept it is the backbone of humility. Please remember that.

3. Be self-aware

Self-awareness falls under the emotional intelligence concept, also known as EQ. What this self awareness allows you to do is know who you are in every situation and also how others perceive you. Why this is so important is that it allows you to continuously be cognizant of who you are, where you are and how you desire to be viewed. The question to ask yourself is “are you representing yourself as appropriately as you want to be represented?” If there is any chance or doubt that you are not representing yourself appropriately, then it is time to immediately shift.

As an example, as a boss, your leadership style cannot be too rigid today. Instead, you must recognize that the needs of one employee may not necessarily translate into the needs of another employee. One employee who may respond well to challenges or competition between employees will need to be addressed in a certain fashion. Another employee may need consistent feedback for him to verify that he is on the right track and moving forward appropriately. However, this employee may need to be coached in order to become more self-confident.

In these cases, it is important that the leader adapt to the team that he or she has or creates. Simply being one type of leader will not cut it when you are having to deal with diverse employees, diverse customers and changing situations. Please don’t get me wrong, you can still hold your employees accountable and still be an admired leader. You can still have high hopes and expectations and still be revered.

It's a balancing act.

In my travels and experiences, I have been able to listen to and marvel at the verbiage of great leaders. This is how they communicate with their subordinates:
  • Great communication: “I am proud of you.”
  • Great trust: “I trust our team.”
  • Assuming nothing: “What do you think?”
  • Offering assistance: “How can I help you?”
  • Admitting mistakes: “I was wrong, I am sorry.”

A great listener, time manager, selfless, team player, always going above and beyond, love to serve others and improvement-oriented are just a few of the other characteristics. The thing about many of these characteristics is that they are learned more when you are not a leader. I don’t agree with putting an individual into a leadership position before they are ready. And unfortunately, many leaders that I have coached were not ready for the position - I inevitably had to teach them some of the characteristics noted above.
Ultimately, good leaders understand that they do not know everything, but are able to guide and lead their team (some of whom may be more experts than they are) despite this fact. The great thing about this is that we all have room for improvement; leaders who understand this simple concept will continue to grow, learn and improve with this mindset. So, as you become the next leader within your organization, remember that you are still learning and growing in order to become the best leader possible. I don’t know about you, but this is the leader that I want to work for - no matter what your level.

Peter A. James: Coach, Accountability Partner (AP), Professor | threefirsts.com | @drpaj

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