Who was the best leader you have ever worked for? What are the traits that made this this person a great leader, and what the characteristics that all great leaders share?
Below are the nine essential traits that a leader should possess. When going through this list, it does not matter if you are leading a team of three people, a department of 100, or an entire organization of thousands. While going through this list, ask yourself how do you rate?
1. Believe in a vision. Leaders must set a vision, and get people to believe in that vision. The vision is something that everyone should aspire to, in everything that they do. Find people who support the vision and who will help spread the word.
2. Excel in communicating. Leaders must be excellent in oral and written communications, and must know when to use which form. They must be adept at tailoring their message based on the audience, and breaking down communication barriers. Active listening and empathy are core components of leadership. Too many leaders are too busy talking and are not spending any real time truly listening.
3. Develop teamliness. For the organization to succeed, they must work together as a team. Everyone needs to do their piece, or there will be breakdowns. As a leader, you need to understand the needs of the team, especially any key decision makers. This may include direct contacts such as clients, employees and peers as well as indirect contacts such as vendors, industry experts, and the press.
As a leader, surround yourself with great lieutenants. It is important to build a team of can-do people who can provide you with the support that you need. If you have a team of naysayers, it is time to find a new team.
4. Be passionate. A leader inspires their team and gets people to change their behavior as a way to achieve the team’s desirable results. Passion is infectious. Your team will feel it and will emulate it. Be passionate about everything that you do.
5. Develop how you will measure success. Make sure that you have a clear understanding on what is required to succeed, and who are the key decision makers and influencers. Develop and share key performance indicators (KPIs) with your team so that they can be on the same page, and that they can develop KPIs within their groups that support your higher-level KPIs.
6. Demonstrate character. A leader needs to understand that they do not know everything and they should be constantly striving to learn.
A leader admits to their mistakes. When you screw up (and you will!), it is essential to admit to mistakes and then to find solutions. Doing so builds trust and respect.
The leader must adapt their leadership style to the situation as different situations require different types of leaders and leadership styles.
7. Be customer focused. We must keep in mind who our “customers” are and then do everything possible to meet and exceed their expectations. If you lead an internal support organization, then your customer are other internal groups. For example, I’ve worked with many IT groups, both agency and client side, and the most successful of them go out of their way to treat their internal constituents as clients.
8. Possess a strong morale compass. A leader needs to operate with transparent integrity, at all costs. They must demand brutal honesty from their team and their vendors. This is non-negotiable.
9. React with stability. As a leader, being even keeled is critical. It is important not to jump to conclusions when dealing with issues so that you make fact-based decisions, or when in the middle of a crisis, not to be too busy pointing blame instead of solving the actual problem and communicating with the outside world. Your team will emulate your behavior.
A few other things to consider:
It is about the soft skills. True leadership is really about people skills, and not the hard skills. For example, no one will ever say that someone was a great leader because they “created amazing Excel pivot tables.”
Charisma can be an important aspect of leadership. Leaders with charisma have an easy time charming people to believe that they are strong leaders since they instantly gain the trust and respect of the people. People feel very comfortable with charismatic leaders as they make everyone feel that they are the important person who the leader has spoken with. People want to follow these leaders. However charisma is not a must have. Although having charisma is important, it does not mean that leaders without charisma will fail.
Remember that leadership is different from management. Although managers can (and should) provide leadership, not all leaders are managers. Managers focus on objects and position power. Leaders focus on people and personal power. Managers focus on organizing and staffing. Leaders focus on creating shared culture and values.
So, how do you rate?