What makes a Good Leader?
There are hundreds of leadership and management models out there, and more are “discovered” every year. Have you heard of Holacracity? This decentralised, more flexible way of organising businesses was meant to oust the old-school top-down hierarchy model. So has it? No, not really. There are still many successful businesses running the traditional pyramid model.
Whatever the current trend or latest business model, certain leadership qualities seem to endure and cross industry boundaries. Speaking to successful leaders and their (almost always) satisfied followers, here are the top five prerequisites:
1. Integrity. In order to lead it is essential to have the trust and respect of your followers. Integrity in business has a broader take than its dictionary definition of “being honest and having strong moral principles” (The Oxford Dictionary). It also entails being a good role model. So do not expect your employees to be on time to meetings if you are late.
2. Humility. This means admitting your mistakes, praising good ideas (even if they are not your ideas) and accepting that there may be another better way forward. In his book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins states that “Level 5 Leaders” look out of the window to credit others for success and look in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things do not go to plan. This is not about being a martyr – blaming others is rarely effective, while logically solving the issue and learning from the experience is often the key to growth and success.
3. Vision. Do you clearly know what outcome you are trying to achieve? If not, how will you get there? “Start with the end in mind – so that the steps you take are always in the right direction” – Stephen Covey. Vision is not a dream for your organisation – it is a solid plan for the business as a whole, its teams and its individuals.
4. Adaptability. Change and uncertainty are inevitable. Leading businesses lead change, by constantly adapting to economic, business, political and environmental factors. So do not carve your vision in stone. Flexible attitude to challenges is also important – reframing (What else could this mean? How else can we deal with this issue?), prompt resolution (not sweeping it under the carpet or hoping it will magic itself away – it will not) and learning from the experience are key to effective challenge management. Be proactive not reactive when it comes to change.
5. Communication. How clearly is your vision understood by everyone else in the organisation? Do they “buy it” and act by it? How about your mission statement – is it a real action statement or a stylish wall decoration behind the reception desk? Clear, effective and timely communication is crucial. Ensure that the communication channels work in each direction, not just top to bottom but also horizontally within teams and between teams, and vertically up from the “shop floor”. Often that is where some of the best ideas and insights are born.
Which brings us back to Integrity, Humility and Adaptability. Learn to listen seeking to understand and keep your ear close to the ground. The best ideas are not always the loudest and may not come from the most obvious sources. Have an open mind. Communicate.
There are clearly many other qualities a leader requires to be effective, but these five make a good foundation.
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