9 Behaviors of Effective Leaders
Leadership is another catchall phrase that gets liberally bandied about in the media and corporations alike. The word itself seems to embody all the greatness we come to expect from people in leadership position (i.e. Jack Welch, etc…). Journalists and academics just love the topic, devoting countless articles, books and seminars to the subject.
Of course, we also understand that leadership is not an actual end-point or end-state that is achieved. We know rather that it is more of a scale or continuum on which we all reside on different places and at different times. And perhaps rather than a linear continuum, we should also consider that leadership is in fact multi-dimensional. As the case of Steve Jobs has taught us, you can be a brilliant leader in some respects and completely abysmal in others. So defining great leadership is a complex if not futile exercise.
Rather than try to define the perfect cocktail of skills and abilities that make up good leadership, I just wanted to share a few words describing some of the more mundane and possibly overlooked behaviors of effective leadership today. After all, managing teams is never continuously filled with glory and accolades. It can be a tough slog.
- Sharing information – liberally. In an age when people often feel threatened or insecure, it takes a special kind of courage to be self-less and to unselfishly share ideas & information. We all know the adage that “information is power.” Hence sharing it liberally can be hard to do, especially when we fear that others will shine with it (at our expense?). What this means: Effective leaders understand that while sharing information may threaten their omnipotence, it strengthens the team and makes the whole group more effective.
- Giving credit to others – unselfishly. Many managers are regularly faced with recognition for something their team has done. Again, it takes courage to intentionally re-direct the recognition to the legitimate owners or authors. What this means: Leaders are good precisely because they are comfortable refocusing attention towards their teams and giving credit where it is due.
- Focusing on the mission – even in hard times. When the news isn’t good or when you know what is coming down the pike, but cannot share it, being an upbeat leader can seem like an impossible task. What this means: Highly effective leaders are able to exhibit unwavering purpose and focus on the mission even in the face of impending hardships. That doesn’t mean you are a phony and poker-faced liar, it means that you are able to redirect your attention away from the hubris and get the work at hand done.
- Showing up – when you have other things to do. It sometimes takes extra effort to show up at an event or meeting where someone in your team is working or presenting. You don’t always have the time, energy or inclination but you know it is important to support your team. What this means: Make the time/effort to step out of your personal routine to watch (and actively support) your team members in action. Impromptu “drop-ins” can be especially effective as long as people recognize that you are there to support them rather than catch them doing something wrong.
- Putting up – when you’d rather not. Not everybody is a natural caring, empathetic and sensitive leader. To some this comes naturally but to others, this requires a great deal of practiced effort. Never is this harder than when you have to put up with emotions, grief, frustrations and behavior that you have a difficult time relating to or being sympathetic with. What this means: Effective leaders know they have to allow direct reports to speak their mind and occasionally vent without making this into a habit or undermining your authority. Open each 1-on-1 meeting with a simple “how are you doing?”
- Evaluating people – firmly but fairly. Many companies have a policy of force-ranking staff at evaluation time. Labeling people on your team or forcing them into categories that don’t always fit, is never easy or fun. What this means: Good managers are tough and fair but will err on the side giving people the benefit of the doubt. They will fight for their people with vigor yet they will accept dissenting views without taking it personally.
- Listening – actively. Sometimes you have to sit back, bite your tongue and hold back the urge to jump in with a solution or answer. What this means: Sometimes you just have to hear people out and genuinely listen to everything being said. Don’t rush in with the answer. Let them come up with it themselves through careful probing & questioning.
- Letting go of people – with tact. Probably one of the hardest tasks a manager has to do is to fire people who may or may not always deserve it. Sometimes you have to be the bearer of unpleasant news to people who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and take underperforming people off the team. Either way, it can weigh heavily on your heart and health. What this means: There is no quick antidote for sharing difficult news or for letting go of people. The best that effective managers can achieve is to handle such situations with expediency, courtesy and compassion.
- Setting an example – consistently. Whether through your words, your actions or your behavior, you are always setting an example and putting yourself out there to be judged. The challenge of leadership is not to make the right choices and adopt the best behavior. Anyone can have flashes of brilliance. The real challenge is to do this consistently. What this means: The ultimate test of a great leader is to be consistent in what they say (and practice) in every message, every meeting, and every project.
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