Demystifying Leadership: the 4 Things That Truly Matter
You often hear people say that leadership is about dedication, vision, and inspiration. But telling people that great leaders are dedicated or inspired is a bit like saying great athletes are fit.
Everyone knows that leaders have to be dedicated and inspired. It’s important to move beyond those worn out cliches if you really want to distill the essence of what leadership. This is about getting right down to the bone and parsing out exactly what it takes to be a successful business leader.
To really get at the heart of the matter, you have to look beyond the BS of most management writing. A good place to start is by studying the already-successful leaders in the world.
Luckily, there are thousands of researchers working on that for us already. What can we glean from all the hard work they’re putting into management surveys, leadership studies, and the like?
Turns out there are a few select characteristics that most great leaders share. And yes, this includes dedication and hard work but let’s branch out, shall we, and look at what else it takes to lead your people to greatness.
Here are four ways great leaders are described, all BS aside.
Most Americans are still really unhappy when they’re at work, according to Gallup. Clearly, leaders have a long way to go when it comes to supporting the goals and needs of their employees in the workplace.
When IBM set their artificial intelligence supercomputer Watson to the task of ranking leading CEO’s, altruism came out as the #2 personality trait.
In this leadership context, altruism doesn’t carry the same meaning as it does in the general world. CEO’s don’t have to rush out and save gorillas or feed the hungry to be successful. Rather, it’s a type of altruism that’s aimed at employees.
In other words, CEO’s who watch out for the well-being of their staff tend to be highly successful.
That still covers a lot of ground, so here are some concrete examples:
- Focus on providing benefits to staff. When making decisions, great CEO’s always consider the impact on their employees.
- Show authenticity. A true interest in staff well-being is a top factor in leadership success. Leaders who sense what their staff is going through, who watch and observe the workplace environment, and who show genuine concern for their employees are on the right track.
- Get involved. Leaders shouldn’t be immune to rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in group work once in a while. This goes a long way towards inspiring team members to collaborate and to overcome their obstacles.
- Practice transparency. Since good leadership is about trust, you’ll need to work in a little transparency to your daily routine. This might feel awkward, especially if there’s some sort of shortcoming to reveal. But in the end, employees want to trust the person who leads them, warts and all.
Always seeking new knowledge is characteristic of successful people in general, but for leaders it’s imperative. Leaders need to be on top of their game, so they need to be always learning.
There’s another dimension to this, however, and it has to do with being open-minded. You see, when you’re constantly seeking knowledge, it’s implied that you’re open to any new ideas you may come across.
So really, the trait we’re talking about here is the ability to seek out new perspectives. One source, of course, is your employees. This circles back around to Trait #1: Supportive and Altruistic.
Inquisitive leaders gets their knowledge from a variety of sources, including their own employees.
Great leaders seek out new perspectives from their peers, from research, and from the very people who make their companies hum. Encouraging your staff to contribute their opinions and then seriously considering their ideas is a good way to be both an altruistic and an open-minded leader.
Leaders need vision, but they can’t simply be dreamers, either. Those who follow through with an eye toward results are typically more successful than those who get lost in the process and forget about the endpoint.
Setting clear objectives helps in this regard, and it naturally follows that productivity and efficiency come into play as well. Therefore, great leaders are very apt to place a strong emphasis on prioritization of work that lends the highest value to achieving their goals.
You don’t have to be a scientist to be a great leader, but you do have to be able to solve complex problems. Problem-solving serves as the foundation of great decision-making, so you’d best get cracking on sharpening your analytical skills.
That’ll take skills with information-gathering, too. How efficient are you at performing research? Can you quickly take in reams of information, process what you’ve learned, and come up with a good perspective on a topic? If so, you’re halfway there to making some winning decisions.
We’re not saying the great leadership debate is over with. There are still more factors in the mix that will require finesse on your part.
Context is one of them—the unique blend of personalities and skills of the people on your team plays a central role in your company’s success, too. You’ll have to take the generalities we’ve talked about here and tweak them for your situation.
Nevertheless, the core behaviors of great leaders are all packed in right here for you to digest. Feel free to refer back to them often, whenever you lose track of where you’re headed.
Ben Shepardson is the founder of NoStop Ghost Writing, a boutique writing agency focusing on helping small business clients take their websites to the next level.
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