While I believe that much about leadership can be learned, I have also come to find out that the practice of leadership is rarely successful via the application of textbook principles. As someone who has long studied, taught, and practiced leadership, trust me when I say there are thousands of leadership principles. Most of which can be found in what seems to be a million books and seminars that teach leadership and its surrounding ideology.
However, what it really comes down to isn’t the leader’s in-depth training and knowledge of leadership practices. Where the rubber truly meets the road are the inherent actions and subconscious beliefs of the leader. These make all the difference in the world and while there are countless things that individual leaders do to drive performance and behavior, there are also some things that are more consistent among strong leaders. Here are 6 that I have identified so far.
- Embrace Adversity: When the world is good and the engine is firing on all cylinders anyone can lead. You rarely see ball players and coaches having it out amidst a victory. This translates straight from the field to the office as well. Leaders that know how to not only weather the storm, but keep a watchful eye on the horizon tend to drive the most successful outcomes.
- Transparency: Too often I find managers and leaders that limit the communication they provide to their team. Sometimes it is for monetary reasons such as limiting awareness to profits or perhaps losses. Other times it is to keep employees unaware of the plan or direction that the company is taking. Whatever the reason, I have rarely found that this plan of limiting information works. In fact, I believe employees (people) are incredibly intelligent and they almost always see through the lack of transparency. What is worse, this leaves them to making their own assertions which can be devastating to productivity and morale. Strong leaders know how to be transparent without putting their organizations at risk.
- Empathetic Ear: Have you ever left a conversation or a meeting where you feel like you were talked to death. Either to or at, but nonetheless you feel as if you were asked to drink from a fire hose; perhaps without even being thirsty? Strong leaders understand that talking is generally not the means to gathering the support of the people nor the sought out results. This isn’t to say that a strong leader doesn’t have important things to share, but they know that what they want to share will be much better received when those whom they are leading feel understood. This tenet transcends every silo of our life from work to family to community. Those we find ourselves getting behind generally serve our interests more than their own. At the very least they have convinced us that this is the case.
- Surrounded With Brilliance: The inherent leader knows one thing for sure . . . that they don’t know everything. Michael Jordan is arguably the best basketball player to ever play the game, but he didn’t win a championship before Scotty Pippen arrived. In business the parallel is that the reason great leaders get the credit is rarely because they knew how to do it all and did it all themselves. Rather, it is in the fact that they knew some of it, and left the rest to the experts. The best leaders know what holes they need to fill and they spend a tremendous amount of time and energy to make sure that they fill them well. Show me a great leader in sports, military, politics, or business and I’ll name at least 1 person in their immediate circle that was of great significance to their success.
- Many Shades of Grey: Most managers live for black and white. They seek out simple answers and avoid areas that cannot be easily defined. A better manager realizes it isn’t so simple, however they often get stuck in the grey area that lives between black and white. The leaders that emerge recognize that there are far more than 50 shades of gray. These shades of grey provoke the leader to ask more questions, listen more empathetically, and guide their following to the next destination.
- Shifty: For the longest time I was certain that better leaders understood the importance of staying the course. In a 7 habitesque fashion of write the plan and live the plan. As I’ve experienced life (failed) I have found that this theory, while sound in many ways, is missing a component that drives better leadership. The difference? The strong leader does have the plan and certainly commits to the plan, but knows when the plan needs altering and is quick to make adjustments. There are two major points in which most plans and strategies go wrong. It is the early diversion that is often created by lack of immediate results and the late turn which often involves trying to redirect the Titanic after it has already hit the iceberg. For best results leaders must know when to stay the course because the strategy is working and when to steer away from the proverbial iceberg before it’s too late.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and arrive on our doorstep from all walks of life. While some are better than others, all leaders have certain characteristics that drive them to be more or less successful. Help continue the conversation below . . .
In your experience, what are the inherent traits of strong leaders you have encountered?