Opinions abound, but when you boil things down, the qualities that make a leader great are the character attributes that the most successful and powerful among us share. It seems not to matter whether the leader is a politician, a business leader or a visionary from the worlds of arts or science. Leadership requires a multitude of talents when times are good and when they are bad. Here’s what seems to keep the best of the best going.
Integrity is something that is hard to fake. As the head of your business, you set the standard and it’s up to you to make sure you are sending the right message. It’s about being honest and telling the truth as you know it, but it also means speaking up when silence would be more comfortable, and owning failures as well as victories. A firm’s values and ethics should not be subject to different interpretations in different circumstances. Your standards, your firm’s standards and your expectations for your employees should be upfront and simple to understand. If your employees don’t know exactly where you stand on work standards, commitment to customers, employee relations and ethics, no amount of verbiage or lengthy mission statements will make any impact. Be aware that employees are more prone to watch what you do rather than what you say.
Not all great leaders are natural communicators, but successful ones get help to get their message across. Work with someone on your team who can help you convey your goals and vision to your employees. Hire freelancers to put your thoughts into lively presentations, or learn how to use a blog on an intranet to reach your employees. Proactively seek pointers on giving speeches or presentations, or it might be more effective if you delegate this responsibility. But either way, make sure your employees understand that you want them to stay current with company news and updates. Good communication is a two-way process, and so make yourself available for feedback – whether it is via a regular brown bag lunch or an open door policy.
Ability to Delegate
Perhaps nothing crushes morale and creativity faster than a boss who doesn’t trust anyone else to get the job done. Unless a leader is willing to create a team of individuals with specific responsibilities and the authority to get work done, a business will have a very difficult path to growth. If the boss’ desk becomes a bottleneck, and the business’ leader is the only source for decisions on every matter, the firm may not thrive. Delegation requires first-class communication skills, too. The boss must let employees know what outcome is expected, in what timeframe, and what resources are available to make it happen.
Confidence, Commitment and Charisma
No one is suggesting you turn into a Pollyanna, but a leader has to address setbacks and put the inevitable bumps in the road into perspective. When the going gets tough, employees look to their leader for their cues. Tell the truth. Keep your commitments, and if plans have to change, be sure to give your employees complete answers as to why. If extra work and deadlines loom, don’t be shy about rolling up your sleeves and getting down in the trenches. If staff has to work on a holiday, show up with seasonal treats and pitch in, too.
When all else fails, a sense of humor can save the day. Everyone needs to laugh once in a while—just make sure that the emphasis is on self-depreciatory humor. Political and other types of risky humor have no place in the office. As a boss, it is also helpful to let your staff see you as one of the team in a humorous situation once in a while. A little humor to lighten the mood can help strengthen the team and make the workplace friendlier.