Published on Monday, June 1st, 2020 04:02:08 AM
Perhaps the best place to start is by asking what makes a great leader. What is the end goal here? What are you aspiring to?
When we think of great leaders, we will often think of inspiring superhero types. People with heroic, puffed out chests, powerful voices and a cool air of confidence.
They always know the right thing to do and they have the uncanny ability to reel off motivational and inspiration speeches at the drop of a hat. No one ever defies these great leaders because they don’t want to – the leaders are so just and wise that they have no need. But if anyone ever did cross them, they would be immediately be put to rights with a stern but fair judgment and unquestionable authority.
These are the leaders that make us feel safe, that steer our ships through uncharted waters and that makes us feel like we can do anything as a team. These are the heroes taken straight out of the Saturday morning cartoons you probably watched as a child (which, by the way, are based very much on our Father and Mother archetypes).
Now the chances are that you probably have known a few people like this in your lifetime. Perhaps you have a parent who really is that wise, all-knowing figure. Or maybe you had a teacher that inspired you when you were younger and helped you to make the career choices that led you to where you are today.
You might also know of some famous real-life characters who fit this bill. Perhaps you know of a few celebrities who you look up to, or a few historical characters even.
But for the most part, this is not the reality of what makes a good leader. While all these things could certainly help you to inspire followers, they are certainly not necessary for you to become an effective leader. And it’s just as well - as that would be an awful lot of pressure to put on yourself!
So what does make a good leader? What is the minimum entry requirement?
Of course, this is a somewhat abstract concept and not one that can be satisfied with a simple answer. But let’s give it the best shot.
Ultimately, the best leader is the leader who gets results. And they do this by organizing, stabilizing and motivating a team in order to get more out of them than they would be able to accomplish on their own. So put simply: does having this leader in place make a big difference to the team’s ability to accomplish goals?
If the answer is yes, then the leader is providing a useful function and they are worth keeping in place. If the answer is no, then you could make the argument that the leader is not useful and is a waste of money or time.
But this mentality, while accurate, is dangerous. Why? Because it leads to ‘performance reviews’ and other tests to identify the ability of the leader. A leader might then be punished or penalized if they should fail to meet monthly targets, or if they should be seen to be spending too much money.
This seems to make sense when you think about leaders in terms of their ability to help teams meet goals but this is forgetting one small factor: time.
Because a leader’s ability should not be measured in terms of their ability to accomplish X in T amount of time. If that is the only concern and the only aspect of performance that the leader is graded on, then in all likelihood they will end up making the wrong decisions for the good of the business and the good of the team. They will stick with what works, they will stick with what they know and they will avoid taking risks or evolving their business model to meet new challenges.
A good leader should be someone who is able to see the road ahead and to seemingly pre-empt the changes that will affect businesses most.
These are the leaders who will be able to help a business to grow rather than just survive and who will be able to help avoid catastrophic failures that lead to layoffs or bankruptcy. And this same theory applies in other contexts too - the best parent is one who can not only keep the family happy and functioning well but who can also help to improve their circumstances so that they become happier and so that they become more fulfilled. They are also able to foresee potential challenges and set up contingencies so that they can deal with crises while remaining cool and level-headed. This is the true example of ‘Super Dad’ and ‘Super Mum’.
So we can conclude that a great leader is able to help a team meet goals more effectively than they would otherwise and that these goals should be long-term goals rather than short-term.
When a leader is stifled, it is very often because the leader above them is short-sighted. If management higher up is forcing quarterly reviews with strict, punitive measures for those seen to be underperforming then it will stifle a leader’s ability to grow and bring changes. This means that the goal needs to be right as well and in many ways, it’s that goal that we will see is the most important driving force behind a great leader.
Traits of a Great Leader
That’s a rather abstract overview of leadership though and one that doesn’t really give us all that much concrete information to work with. So let’s take a look at some of the more concrete traits that we can break down this concept into...
What is a good leader?
Good leaders believe in what they’re doing
Perhaps one of the single most important things for a good leader is that they believe in what they are doing. That is to say, that good leaders should have a real passion for what they’re doing and really believe in it. This is important because it will help them to make the best decisions for the long term of the business and also because it will help them to inspire others.
Good leaders see the big picture
A good leader needs to be able to step back and see the bigger picture. They need to understand where the team is headed and what challenges will face them along the way. This is important because it will allow all the individual members of that team to focus on their smaller aspect.
Good leaders have a broad knowledge
A good leader should be something of a jack of all trades. The reason for this is that it will give them the understanding to see how all the pieces fit together and it will mean they are able to deal with issues as they arise across departments; even when that means taking more of a top-level approach rather than understanding the nitty-gritty.
You’ll also find that having some basic experience in each aspect of your business can help you to get more respect from the professionals in each aspect of your organization.
Good leaders understand people
A good leader should be able to work with anyone. This means they need to be able to empathize with those people and to understand what makes them tick so that they can inspire them to take action. It also means that a good leader needs to know how to
Good leaders are great communicators
This also means you need to be able to communicate as a leader. Not only is it your job to communicate the plan in a way that your team can fully understand but it is also your job to communicate to your superiors and to your clientele.
Good leaders think ahead
A good leader shouldn’t just be dealing with the day-to-day challenges of the business but should be thinking one step ahead. You need to be constantly questioning what the next challenge will be and how to face it and you need to be thinking about how to grow, improve and scale your organization.
Good leaders have contingency plans
Good leaders also need to have multiple contingencies and backup plans. Think of your worst-case scenarios and be prepared for them.
Good leaders lead by example
It is important that you lead by example in all cases. This means that you need to take a ‘do as I do’ approach, rather than making one rule for one person and another for yourself.
It also means more generally setting the tone. Teams look to their leaders as barometers – to identify how serious any given situation is and to know how they should react. If you panic, then your team will panic. If you stay calm, then your team will too.
Good leaders are courageous
A good leader needs to be courageous. If this is sounding like your Saturday morning TV show again, then bear in mind that we’re not talking about the kind of courage that gives you the strength to stand up to the Decepticons in Transformers. Rather, we’re talking about the courage to take risks and to break the mold. This is very important
Good leaders take responsibility
Once you have made that decision, it is critical that you stand by it and face the music. That means that you need to accept responsibility when things go wrong. This can seem unfair at times but once again, it is actually a feature that is important for the welfare of the team.
By accepting responsibility, you remove culpability from your team and give them the freedom to work without fear of repercussions.
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