On Leadership

What is a leader? What traits do I want to make sure I have as a leader? What has my experience taught me so far? I’ve been trying to answer these questions and have been thinking about what leadership means to me. 

Even though the dictionary defines a leader as “the person who leads or commands a group”, I do not believe that this simple definition is the same thing as being a true leader. A person that merely uses their “power” to intimidate others into getting things done is not a leader. Likewise, a person who uses fear to motivate people into getting things done, or walks over people in a selfish attempt to achieve a goal, is also not a leader.

So, what qualifies someone as a great leader? Let’s start with a fact, and one that many leaders refuse to acknowledge; there are no perfect leaders. We are human and we have weaknesses. We are human and we have strengths. The key is to spot the differences between the two, understand the pros and cons of both, and be a leader that is balanced.

The following are key areas I value (and work on) and that I believe a great leader possesses:

  • Visionary and Communicative – a leader will see beyond the present and will clearly articulate the direction the group must go. A leader builds the road that his followers will travel down. He clears the bushes, cuts down the trees, and paves the road so that others will clearly see what’s ahead and where they are being led. A great leader will take the first step on this road because having confidence, and conviction, to guide their fellow travelers down this road is vital— particularly in tough times.
  • Consistent – a great leader is someone with a consistent behavior and people know where they stand on their value system. When a leader lacks consistency, they create an environment of unknowns. This leads to fear.
  • Trusting and Candid – a great leader will not always tell the truth, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be candid. In fact, a great leader must be sincere. Trust is earned and being candid is the blood that pumps through the veins of trust. Being open, genuine, and respectful is critical. I can’t stress enough the importance of this area. I found the following quote very insightful: When you instantly resort to secrecy, you are telling people they can’t be trusted. When you are candid, you are telling people that you trust them and that there is nothing to fear. To confide in employees is to give them a sense of ownership over the information. The result—and I’ve seen this again and again—is that they are less likely to leak whatever it is that you’ve confided.” Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace 
  • Listens, acknowledges and makes decisions – a great leader will listen and acknowledge everybody in the team, including support staff. This is one of my personal pet peeves and something I’ve seen a lot of people dismiss. When people feel their input is dismissed they grow unhappy, unmotivated, and their performance lags. Listening and acknowledging does not mean a great leader needs to build consensus or will use all the information obtained. Building consensus leads to mediocrity. A great leader takes the input from people, applies it to the situation, and then decides.
    How powerful is this image? Acknowledge and thank everyone for his or her contributions.
  • Accountable – a great leader will be accountable for results. If they don’t hold themselves accountable, then how will they hold others accountable? To be accountable one needs to have ownership and defined goals that are clearly communicated. Providing full ownership to enable people to reach their goals takes time, but a great leader will make this a priority by identify the roadblocks that may derail the completion of goals. When these roadblocks are spotted, the great leader will remove them so their team is truly empowered.
  • Resilient – a great leader is calm, and collected, specially during times of extreme difficulty. It’s during these challenging times when a great leader will put themselves on the frontline to be the first defense against attack. The will keep pushing for growth, are quick to adopt new plans when current tactics fail, and will keep a steady vision even if they must sacrifice themselves.  
  • Focus more on product and team rather than others (including competition) – a great leader will understand what other groups and the competition are doing. However, great leaders do not over index on this subject. Doing so creates a distraction and prevents them from understanding their own customer’s needs, addressing internal issues, and ensuring everybody is doing their best.
  • Fair – a great leader realizes everybody on their team deserves an equal chance at succeeding and nurtures an environment that provides a fair chance of success. The individual is ultimately responsible for deciding what to do with this opportunity, but when it’s time to reward one must remember to reward the behaviors, and results, that are identical regardless of all other influences and discourage those that prevent the team from achieving greatness. Avoid biased opinions (including unconscious) as this will always lead to resentment, which will then always lead to mistrust.

A great leader will have a framework for which they can get an organization through their hurdles. However, note how I refrained from calling emotional traits on this framework. I believe each organization must decide what type of personality fits best to address unique hurdles. A charismatic leader might be best for times of inspiration, but an insightful leader might be best for tough times.

Hope you find this framework useful,

Alvaro

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