The key to successful leadership in today’s environment is influence, not authority.
From the dawn of man there have been leaders. Yes, even during the “caveman days,” leaders walked the earth. Unlike the dinosaurs, though, leaders have not become extinct.
Since the first manager laid down his stone hammer and began to tell his fellow “cavemen” what to do, managers have been expected to be good leaders… and with good reason. Leadership is an essential ingredient in good management. To become a good leader, one must understand what leadership is and how to become an effective one.
With that said, the question has to be asked: What is leadership? Generally, most people agree that leadership is the ability to induce people to do, willingly and well, what someone wants and expects them to do.
What does it take to be a leader? Is there anything to the idea that leaders are born and not made? There are many experts who fall on either side of this argument. However, there seem to be traits that are inherent in most effective leaders. Some recognize these traits more readily; some use them more skillfully or more often than others. I would contend that the majority of managers possess leadership traits and use them with reasonable success.
Certainly, there are many important traits, but here we will focus on a few which, when applied faithfully, can bring about very positive results. The following, not in any specific order, are presented as thought-provoking ideas:
- Integrity. Integrity might be the No. 1 trait that effective leaders should possess. Integrity is more than being trustworthy and honest. A person with integrity is someone who is ethical and has high morals and principles.
- Trustworthiness. Trust is at the core of respect for any leader. Effective leaders are honest in their dealings with people and can be counted on to follow through on their commitments each and every time. Their word is their bond. People work harder for a leader they trust, respect and believe in.
- Professional character. Effective leaders don’t just talk about professional character—they demonstrate professional character. They treat people with courtesy and dignity. They realize a person’s worth is not related to position. Effective leaders take time to care about people.
- Fairness. Simple, yet powerful. People want fairness… fair rules, fair tasks, fair competition, fair discipline, etc. Only the leaders who do their best to be fair in relationships with people can hope to obtain willing responses from associates.
- Tactfulness. Some might call this the “sugarcoated” characteristic of effective leadership. It is a most important characteristic because tact helps keep people’s minds free of grievances and resentment. It is almost impossible to obtain willingly positive responses from people if you “rub them the wrong way” unnecessarily or too often.
- Persistence. A leader cannot quit when the going gets tough. Leaders have to stay with problems and situations because, in order to evoke the desired response from people, they have to give them the “lift” that comes from accomplishment. Persistence is an important characteristic when it comes to evoking a response.
- Consistency. Consistency makes a leader easier to follow. Good leaders have a proper balance of mental, emotional and physical characteristics so people can adapt to the leadership style. People need to understand what is considered important and necessary. They need to know that the leader can be counted on to respond consistently to situations. If not consistent, the leader causes fear, uncertainty and lack of trust in the workforce.
- Showing interest. Maybe even more simple than fairness, but just as powerful. This is the characteristic that effective leaders use to induce people to “warm” to them. Effective leaders have a sincere interest in people… interest in their problems, progress, hopes, ideas, likes and dislikes. Effective leaders know that people tend to be drawn to—and respond to—those who demonstrate an interest in them. Only the leader who demonstrates a sincere interest in people can expect to evoke willing responses from them.
- Leading by example. Leaders need to set the example for others to model. People watch everything about their leaders; their every move, decision and deed is observed. Understanding this is important. Lead by example and set the standard for others to emulate.
- Effective communication. No matter how business-savvy or intelligent a leader is, if they cannot communicate effectively, they won’t be able to lead successfully. Communication skills enable a leader to connect with others to build and maintain healthy relationships.
- Positive attitude. A positive mental attitude (PMA) sets the stage for many other attributes. A PMA is contagious. Coming in every day with a positive attitude, a “can-do” spirit gives people confidence—confidence in the leader, the organization and the work being performed. Effective leaders smile often, greet people positively, and always take the high road.
- Gratitude. Effective leaders demonstrate loudly and often to those who give of themselves to support the group’s success. They reward by various means, appropriately and clearly saying, “Well done.” Without it, people will not feel valuable, and effective leadership will die on the vine.
- Accountability. Effective leaders take full accountability when their team fails, regardless of where mistakes were made or whose performance was lacking. They take full ownership of their purview and support for their colleagues, knowing the team can only be as successful as its poorest performer. They give others full credit for the team’s success and ensure those performers are fully and openly recognized for their contributions.
- Desire. The secret to success is not beauty, talent, skills, intelligence or education. The secret is desire. A desire to succeed and win. Desire is more powerful than any other ingredient, as it drives all others. Leaders need to overcome the natural fear of the known and unknown dangers to successfully complete the mission. In order to have courage, they need to have the confidence that is gained by being fully prepared. Being fully prepared comes from desire, commitment and hard work—most often when no one else is around. This allows a leader to overcome resistance, regardless of its direction and magnitude, to be successful.
A leader either possesses these traits or can acquire them. Their skillful and successful use, however, is a matter of three little words—practice, practice, practice—because “practice makes perfect.” iBi