I don’t believe leaders are born; I believe they are made. Being a great leader doesn’t happen by chance. Not everyone has the skills, abilities or desire for that matter to take the lead (and take the responsibility associated). Being a great leader does not just constitute asking for a bigger pay packet or giving yourself a title.
Here are 12 (plus one bonus) of my personal ideas of what makes not just a good leader, but an extraordinary leader:
1. Passion & Motivation.
You need to be passionate about what you are doing, the business and even the industry you work in. You must love what you do and have enough passion to share with others. Your enthusiasm should be contagious. To you, what you do isn’t just a ‘job’ or a means to making reasonable money, but you turn up every day because you love what you do. Think of yourself almost like a “Eveready Battery” – being there to energise and charge the team. At some level you may even mentor others aspiring for leadership roles in the future. Being a mentor gives back to your organisation, improves your own skills and is often very satisfying.
Every top leader is an exceptional communicator. They need to be able to spread the word, let the team know what’s happening, the clients know what to expect and so much more. They are great at sales for that matter and talking to prospective customers, as well as those with the industry, such as suppliers. Communication is critical at all levels of a business, starting at the top.
3. Business Skills.
A leader really needs some skills in tactics, strategy and even a level of knowledge of the technical side of things. Whilst the leader is often not the person performing operational tasks, they should understand how these work in a general sense. A good leader needs to have a broad understanding of all aspects falling under his/her area. How can you lead or guide someone if you have no idea of what they are doing? Then of course, there is the strategy — a leader has to know what direction they (and the business) are heading, and how they will get there. What are the goals, plans and strategies to move forward successfully in the future?
4. Respect & Hardworking.
Whilst you don’t have to be loved by all and sundry, it’s definitely advantageous if you are at the very least highly respected. Staff are more productive with a leader they respect, rather than a leader they fear. Doing well to please a boss you respect is to be aimed for … not just the tyrant or slacko who has earned no respect from their staff. On this note, to lead is to get in there and work hard; not just sit back at your desk, with your feet up and ‘lord it’ over the staff. A boss who gets in late, proceeds to read the paper whilst sipping a coffee and then ‘does the rounds’ to see where everyone is at will get no respect whatsoever.
5. Listen, Be Fair & Be a Negotiator.
A leader has the ability to remain professional and calm and to listen and make fair decisions. It might be a staff member demanding a huge pay-rise, or a disgruntled client demanding a refund. Being a great negotiator will help you, as will listening and being fair. Part of strong negotiating is not losing our cool, or becoming unreasonable. The top negotiation skill is listening (which means stop talking); you will frequently come out on top if you do. Be open to feedback and thank those around you for giving you that feedback – whether or not it’s actioned; acknowledge the person for providing it.
6. Take Action & Be Decisive.
Procrastination will make you appear weak. Gather all the relevant information, make a decision and stick by it. BUT, having said that, a great leader can change direction if new information comes to hand, or they realise the decision was not the best. Don’t stick on the wrong path, simply because you think you are “saving face”. A great leader can face up to mistakes or errors in judgement and display courage and strength of character.
7. Think on your feet.
You must be able to talk publicly and think on your feet. If you are lacking in these skills, join a weekly networking group, or join Toastmasters – both will give you regular practice at speaking. Again, being able to think on your feet and respond shows decisiveness.
And often, you need to be a quick thinker — especially “on your feet”.
8. Be Strong.
Somewhat akin to the above, a leader needs to be strong. If you are “wishy-washy” or vague or lacking confidence, this will show in every aspect of your dealings with people. I’m not saying be arrogant or a bully, but confidence is an important ingredient to an excellent leader.
9. Be Ethical & Honest.
I can’t emphasise this enough. How can you possibly expect your staff to be honest, when they see you ripping off customers or cheating on your financials. This is another example of leading by example. If you expect honesty, integrity and professionalism from your team and those around you, then it all starts up the top – with you. A leader isn’t heard gossiping or speaking poorly of others behind their back, so if you find yourself tempted to do this – stop now!
10. Dress & Speak the Part.
You must ‘play the part’ of a leader. That encompasses every aspect of what you say, what you write, how you say it, how you write it and how you present. Yes, how you dress is important. As a leader you are selling a product as such and every good marketer knows that packing is really important. Think of this as your personal branding. It starts with your resume, follows through to your LinkedIn profile and continues with your dress. If you turn up to work late, swear at clients and can’t seem to find the iron, then once again, you lose credibility, not only with your team but with all those you interact with. Ensure you are also consistent; not just playing the role whilst out at an event or function and then reverting back to old habits as soon as you return to the office or your place of business.
11. Share the Wins.
A great leader can give out thanks and praise as much as accept it. If one of your team was actually the person who made the achievement, openly give that person praise and recognition. No one hates anything more than a boss who takes credit for a worker’s efforts. Whilst guiding and reprimanding staff is a part of a leader’s job, so should be ensuring that the team are thanked and appreciated. Frequently the success of a business is due to the whole team, not any one individual.
12. Keep Learning.
A great leader also must be constantly in learning mode and keeping up to date with what’s happening in their industry. S/he needs to be keeping abreast of relevant information, knowledge, legislation so that this information can be passed down the ranks. A good leader will surround themselves with professionals and those in certain fields who know more than them. Surrounding yourself with experts who know more than you, not only strengthens the organisation, but some of that knowledge is sure to rub onto you. If you are not growing, how can you expect your team to?
Bonus: The buck stops at you!
If you are the leader, at the end of the day, whatever happens (good or bad) the buck stops at you. You have to take responsibility, not only for your own actions but also for those below you. Have broad shoulders, because with a large team, you may have a lot to bear. When I had a large team, if something went wrong and someone didn’t do the right thing; I personally felt responsible. To me, I’d failed that person by possibly not providing them the right support or training. You certainly can’t let it get you down, but if they are in your ‘chain of command’ then they are your responsibility.
Being an extraordinary leader is hard work but it can also be very rewarding when done successfully. I do Leadership Mentoring; call me on 0411 622 666.