When people talk about leadership, it can be hard to know what they really mean. Leadership is always a trending topic in the news. We are surrounded every day by examples of good leadership and we know ‘not so good’ leadership when we see it.
Good leadership can mean different things to different people. How can we come with one universal definition? Those who aspire to join the ranks of leadership often ask themselves “How do I know that I am exhibiting the right traits or an effective leader?”
There are plenty of studies that examine successful leadership and failing leadership. A simple internet search can overwhelm the searcher with the wide variety of traits needed to be an effective leader. How many? There are almost as many articles as there are numbers! The 9, 10, 20 or 101 Leadership Traits!
It can be overwhelming when it comes to deciding which traits truly apply to you and your situation. And even more confounding: how can you measure your effectiveness as a leader? And if leadership is situational, will a leader of a startup be an effective leader during a long period of maintenance? Will the leader at the podium during a media crises be as respected as the leader who steers everyone through a merger?
IS THERE A LEADERSHIP 101?
Whether an aspiring leader or a seasoned one, you will always be in a state of development. While that is not necessarily a bad thing (I’m all for lifelong learning) it makes you wonder: How many Leadership traits do you really need and what are they?
If you read these articles, scour some of the business books, or work in an organization where you can observe leaders who do good work, you can create a list of the most cited behaviors. Some of the most essential include:
- Honesty: People don’t like liars – it’s that simple.
- Empathy: Rapport is the ability to create an affinity with others. When people see that you understand why they feel and think the way that they do, the chances increase that they will work with you.
- Consistency: Having the discipline to be steady and dependable allows others not to worry about how you might behave. This goes a long way to obtaining the respect and trust of others.
- Focus: The ability to aim for a goal that is appealing (strategy) and the skill to figure out the steps that are critical to getting there (execution) is what people look for in a leader. Articulating what is possible and figuring how to get there means that a leader can bring about change.
- Communication: Effectively communicating keeps people focused on the right things and helps foster a positive attitude. Articulating clear expectations, the standards for success, the critical issues, and the ability to provide input and advice engages people.
- Flexibility: Having an open mind and a willingness to pivot increase the chances for true success. Not every challenge has the same solution. As things change, adaptability can be critical.
- Belief: Having the courage of one’s convictions, a clear focus, and the dedication to see it through means you truly believe in the mission. This can inspire others and serve as a model for their behavior.
There are lots of other characteristics that effective leaders possess but many of them are transactional – they depend upon what is going on at the moment. All you have to do is read the news to see plenty of stories that show that leaders can be tested in a variety of situations. The leader of an organization in crises (think United Airlines) is called upon to behave differently than a leader of an organization that is rarely heard about (think Neustar).
The traits above can be applied in any situation, and by anyone. Whether a historical figure or the CEO who now has to manage communication and press conferences in a world of IPhone uploads that travel the world at the speed of light. Warren Buffett once said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” The same applies for leadership. Your words and actions will impact others, and may be critiqued in a conference room or on the national stage.
However, don’t worry. Leadership can be as close as the fingers on your hand. Choose one trait from the list above and practice it for an entire day and replicate that day for a whole week. Observe your colleagues and employees as you interact with them. You will soon find that what once may have felt difficult and just out of reach is now easily recognizable by not only you, but those around you.