Over the years, I have noticed some interesting commonalities shared by top leaders I have known and worked with. Developing the following skills and attributes can provide you with new opportunities to thrive in 2016. Which of the following do you share with great leaders?
Communication is a vital leadership characteristic - one of the most important keys to success. It includes great listening skills. Mike Myatt wrote a wonderful piece for Forbes: Why Most Leaders Need to Shut Up and Listen. Listening is a major component of being a strong communicator. Often, people tend to think that communication means talking – so we jabber on. You know the people who have no trouble interrupting other’s comments, providing unsolicited advice, contributing reassuring comments in themiddle of a colleague’s sentence, judging, analyzing, sermonizing, criticizing, disputing, intimidating, diverting, challenging, diagnosing, and on and on and on. For sure, this is not good communication and certainly not leadership at its best. Ever think about why human beings were endowed with two ears and one mouth? Just might be because listening is a far more important skill and to be a good listener, paying attention is key. The sad part is that most aspiring leaders receive little to no training on how to be a good listener and, consequently, they have no clue that truly "hearing" someone is not a passive activity. How leaders manage to their values, empowering employees, conducting strategic alignment, reporting results, launching projects, plus dozens of other processes and procedures are achieved through listening and clear communication.
Results & People-Oriented
This is not an easy balancing act. Top performing leaders approach their action plans and relationship building with equal urgency. Results orientation is a critical factor for individual and team success. Leaders who recognize this and practice it are always ahead of the game. These leaders possess a dedicated leadership style that is focused on people. They are familiar with the interactions and expectations of their peers, direct reports, board members and overall staff. This is a style, which is inclined to recognize and nourish people’s emotional needs, which is in direct contrast to a task-oriented leadership style, which is more about getting the work done and, to a lesser degree, about inspiring and motivating people. Both styles are important in the workplace. Results and people-oriented leaders know they are responsible for delivering results and they realize that great outcomes can only be achieved by building, maintaining and enhancing collaborative relationships across their organization. A smart leader finds the optimal balance between focusing on results and people.
Do you know your destination? Is it clear in your mind? Can you effectively communicate it? A centered individual who can inspire the team to attain organizational goals is a visionary leader. How you turn your vision into reality is by creating an expressive picture of where the organization is going and, then, engaging your team by making this a shared vision as you motivate and guide actions. With much discipline - despite possible obstacles - a strategic plan, specific goals, assigning responsibilities, keeping the team informed and applauding each small triumph along the journey, your vision can become a reality.
How well do you know yourself? What are your strengths and limitations? Powerful leaders are committed to examining their own reactions, thoughts, feelings and the impact they are having on the people around them. This is where I have had great success using multi-rater feedback to provide leaders with an objective, comprehensive look at how their behaviors are affecting the people they work with. We take that data and use it constructively for leveraging their strengths and overall development. Meditation, reflection and self-help books have their place; however, in business, the most valuable self-awareness comes from your colleagues and the people you serve. Building on this objective insight can help leaders become even more effective. Combining the data with specific skill-enhancing programs can be a next step, but make no mistake self-awareness is where it all begins.
Alert leaders are skilled at deciphering the meaning of what they are seeing and hearing. Top leaders examine their own and the behavior of others and ponder the significance of their behavior - including the message sent by tone of voice and body language. Top leaders, not only examine behavior, they welcome and ask for more information. Paying attention helps to identify the best ideas and create the setting for productive dialogue. Can you feel when the mood of the people around you has changed? When inspecting your financial reports, do you sense that a business shift is occurring? Do you sense when your competitors are about to make a move? This is all part of being an observant leader who recognizes even the smallest details.
Passionate about what they do
Passion drives energy. You can't fake it (if you do, that's another article). All top performing leaders are extraordinarily passionate about their work and how it affects others and their organization. I have found that one way to achieve passion is by working with people who inspire you. Another is having a purpose, which great leaders do. It's finding that little nugget in your job that you can connect to that gives you purpose and fulfillment.
Possess deep curiosity
Einstein commented, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious" (there's that passion again). Many of the greatest leaders I've known or read about maintained a childlike curiosity all their lives. They ardently explored new topics and wanted to know people, learn about them and build relationships. Leaders who are curious create a workplace atmosphere that encourages innovation and creativity.
Ask great questions
Voltaire noted, "Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers." Asking great questions is akin to curiosity and eagerness to learn and to know and falls right in line with the powerful act of “listening”. I like to think of it as enthusiastically inquisitive. You know how it goes - you're at a meeting and someone asks a great question that opens up a flood of conversation. Interestingly, in my classroom and workshop facilitation, I have found that, frequently, the same person asks all the great questions. A wonderful Inc. Magazine article cab help you kick off three or four good questions for those future meetings: 100 Great Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask.
A trusted leader is a combination of outcomes (what you have achieved), who you are (competencies, knowledge, skills and characteristics), and how you make people feel (motivated, good about themselves, inspired). Genuine leadership, the kind that brings people together to accomplish great things, can only happen when a leader is trusted. Demonstrating deep-rooted values, personal sacrifice for your team's benefit, and creating a safe environment that supports and serves your employees are meaningful ways to convey trust.
Whether a nation navigating through dangerous times, a nonprofit fulfilling its community commitment, parents guiding children to become productive adults or healthcare professionals striving to live their mission by helping others and ushering their team to success, powerful leadership sets the tone. People will take note and emulate what their leaders do, so lead in a way that you would like to see duplicated.
It's been said that "a great leader can take a tenuous business model and make it successful, but a weak leader can ruin even the best model."
As you journey through 2016, think about where you are and which traits you would like to enhance. Then, observe these traits in those you admire and make it your goal to identify actions you will take to strengthen and enrich your game.
There is no doubt that sometimes leadership can be a lonely road. To keep you on track, looking for the leader within yourself can be a worthwhile pursuit. This quote sums up the way many great leaders function: