Dig into a simple question, such as “what is leadership?” and you will soon be chin deep in a sea of academic papers, books, and contradictory opinions.
Fortunately, I didn’t drown. After 20 years of reading and 30 years of working, I believe the foundation of good leadership is not complicated. However, it can prove elusive to master, and not everyone is cut out for it.
(Almost) Anyone Can Become A Leader
Fortunately, elements of leadership can be learned, and some research points to three specific qualities that are foundational for leader effectiveness. These three qualities have proven to be important in my leadership journey, as well as leaders I have worked with through the years.
Confidence. When a leader has the confidence to take action, it definitely speaks volumes to your followers, peers and supervisor. Confidence is not hubris. It doesn’t imply a leader has all the answers. Instead, leaders assess available options, take appropriate risks, make decisions, and accept responsibility for how their decisions impact their team and the organization.
Confident leaders are far more likely to have an optimistic vision of the present and future. When employees buy into a leader’s positive expectations, they become engaged in a common vision. Their enthusiasm and energy generates action and momentum that sustains gains in performance.
Altruism. An effective leader uses their personal and positional power to benefit others. These leaders manage their teams up in public and private, as well as serve as a mentor. Research is clear that recognition and praise makes work more meaningful for employees, builds the leader-follower relationship, and enhances trust. All these paths lead to greater engagement, productivity and performance.
Future focus. Effective leaders understand and articulate how today’s decisions and actions will impact the future. This ties into being able to explain the “why” behind today’s decisions, and “how” these actions will lead to desired outcomes. When employees understand the meaningfulness of “why,” and their role in “how,” a bond develops around the feeling that everyone is working toward the same goal.
What Separates Effective And Exceptional Leaders
Although there are many factors and personality traits in play, my experience is that 100 percent of exceptional leaders enjoy the work and the responsibilities they shoulder. They are truly excited about their work and share their excitement with everyone they meet. Their energy is contagious and leads to high performing teams and organizations.
Unfortunately, the same contagion effect holds true for leaders who feel burdened by their role, or have burned out. As you might expect, a CEO I worked for nicknamed Eeyore (the gloomy donkey of “Winnie the Pooh”) was never able to sustain a strong organizational culture or performance despite being a good strategist. His negative energy poked through at just the wrong time, and weighed people and performance down.
What other leadership traits and behaviors do you find are needed to be an effective leader?
Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC in Naperville, IL., and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting.