In our current time period, it can be difficult to identify the qualities that make a great leader. The definition of a leader is not the same as the definition of a “boss”. In fact, many leadership attributes may even seem to oppose those of a boss. The standard and (now antiquated) concept of what makes a boss is one who controls its’ employees, often instilling fear to get the work “done”. The boss tells the employees what to do and the employee is expected to do so, otherwise they risk getting laid off. The boss is aware of your every move and how you are supposed to perform your job.
It is easy to spot a boss, as the only requirement is to have a title of “manager” or higher. Anyone can be “boss-like”; it is the simplest form of management. The toughest job is rising up to become a great leader with visionary purpose and humble respect.
I have been lucky to have had the experience of working with a few great leaders. In comparing the two types of management styles, I have found the list below to define the best qualities of a great leader.
A great leader has a crystal clear vision of the one direction that the organization or team is heading in. They do not waver easily from this position and they do not try to do everything all at once. Instead, they are positive in encouraging others to join their great vision and very patient in the process. It is often a lofty and grand vision and one that includes an aspect greater than themselves.
2) Creates a positive environment
A great leader understands that positivity breeds more positivity, as well as the opposite being even more true. Therefore, it is to the benefit of the entire company or team to provide the most positive environment possible for the employees. This is not just the physical environment, but even more importantly is creating a positive environment interpersonally. A great leader does this by eliminating any unnecessary stressors in the environment and by encouraging respect and openness for anyone to speak their mind often. Disagreements should also be very much encouraged, however, they should always be done so respectfully. Having debates and differing in opinions is vital to the progress of organizations, without becoming argumentative. Providing the type of environment that respectfully encourages all ideas and opinions, no matter how outrageous or opposing is vital to the company’s future success.
A great leader is always humble. It is impossible for anyone to know absolutely everything. We are unfortunately, not on this earth long enough for this to happen. Therefore, there will be always knowledge gaps and mistakes made along the way no matter the position or title. In fact, it is to the benefit of the great leader to hire those that possess the strengths that the leader is weak on. In this way, the organization as a whole becomes that much stronger. A great leader understands this and always treats their employees with the humbling respect of learning from the strengths that the employees bring to the table. They treat their employees as equals, while possessing a learning frame of mind to try to better themselves throughout their careers and lives.
4) Encourages differences
A great leader wholeheartedly encourages all differences, whether they are cultural, work style, orientation, background or otherwise. A great leader will actively seek out these differences and experiences in order to further enrich the team or company that they are building, as well as themselves. I have worked in a few global settings and the best workplace cultures were those that had the most diverse group of people and encouraged all employees to further enrich the current culture by openly integrating their own background and experiences. Differences of all types are included in this to provide a truly open environment where employees are free to be who they are and thereby bring forth their best selves and work. When this type of environment is created, creativity and cohesive teamwork will flourish.
5) Frequent constructive feedback
This is a very tricky aspect of management that most managers struggle with. In general, confrontation is uncomfortable and the easiest option is to avoid it at all costs. However, if done so properly, this will not only greatly benefit the progress of the company, but it will also shape the next generation of great future leaders. Confrontation should not be confrontational at all; rather, constructive feedback is the goal, while also providing a healthy balance of genuine positive feedback simultaneously. The frequency can be debated, but often once per week or about twice per month is most beneficial. The idea behind this is to provide the feedback often enough to allow time for improvement. Feedback should not be a criticism, but rather an opportunity to help the employee rise to the next level.
Feedback is best done when coupled with a few more positive (and genuine) compliments. A ratio or 2 compliments to 1 point of improvement (or a ratio of 3:2) is optimal. There is a psychological reason behind this. As humans, we are often our own worst enemy and when receiving any feedback, we will latch much more strongly to the negative rather than any positive. When outweighing the feedback with positive, this will help to balance the outcome when the employee self-reflects post meeting. The result is an elimination of potential defensiveness and instead an openness to try to improve upon the points that have been discussed, with the help of the leader.
Another feedback method is to use the O-I-S model, which stands for Observation, Impact and Suggestion when discussing the points for improvement. “Observation” is simply stating the point for improvement, in a reasonably gentle way, without sounding unnecessarily critical. “Impact” provides the reason for why this observation is being discussed and the impact that it has on others and/or the organization going forward. “Suggestions” for improvement on these are vital to providing genuine constructive feedback that has a clear and actionable goal. Additionally, a great leader expects constructive feedback in return and encourages employees to provide the same level of feedback for the benefit of the leader and organization as a whole. This may be even more important, as the tone from the top dictates the entire company and team culture.
6) Emotional intelligence
A great leader is level headed, professional and respectful in every circumstance. They have a high level of emotional intelligence and they keep their emotions in check at all times, no matter the circumstances. Unfortunately, sleeplessness is a rampant issue in our work cultures and it has been proven countless times that this greatly stymies the prefrontal cortex to operate at its highest level of efficiency. Therefore, maintaining professional conduct becomes more rare in a society that demands an ever-growing amount of our time. However, the irony is that the highest levels of responsibility and decision-making abilities can only be performed when one is running at their most optimal level. Emotional intelligence takes work and practice. The easiest reaction is to burst into a fit of emotions. However, this is very toxic and can continue to infect the environment in exponentially detrimental ways.
Trust has been thoroughly studied as being one of the most valuable currencies in the workplace. A great leader provides employees a sense of ownership for their work, by encouraging them with the opportunity to make increasingly more important decisions. They also understand the importance of allowing failure. Failure should never be admonished, as it is always a learning opportunity. Leaders encourage employees’ learning progress and therefore, failing now and then is inevitable and a very important part of the process.
Leaders do not micromanage, as it has been proven to be detrimental. The reason is again a psychological one, where one loses a sense of control when they feel that someone is watching their every move. It also contributes to the sense that the manager watching them is, in fact, waiting for the slightest slip-up opportunity to admonish them. Micromanaging can even be as small and as seemingly “innocent” as asking certain questions. For example, if a manager frequently asks what work has been done that day, the implication is that there is a chance one has not done any work. This is a destructive way to communicate as it reveals the insecurities that the manager has in not trusting their employees to get the job done. A leader would instead ask for the progress of a particular project and if there is anything that they need assistance on.
8) Respect for others’ time
A great leader respects all team members’ time (regardless of position level) and furthermore, will encourage time off to unwind and reboot. Respecting other’s time is both necessary at work and outside of the office. Just as batteries will wear down when overused, people will become burnt out without taking the time to rest. Vacation time is often a controversial topic in the U.S., whereas European companies are often found to encourage at least 30 days off each year. Great leaders understand the importance of providing enough time for employees to explore other interests and talents outside of work, so that they can come back to the office and become a greater asset to the organization. The days of having “robotic” employees are over and technology has elevated business to breaking down the walls between home life and the office, as well as breaking down previous global barriers. We now have access to the entire world, while also integrating both work and personal life into each other. Providing the opportunity to employees for taking the time to enrich themselves outside of their job responsibilities is the golden ticket to retaining the best talent and great leaders will be rewarded with the benefit of employees returning to work as an even greater asset than before.
9) Mentors others to become great leaders
Great leaders genuinely want to see others learn and rise up as far as they can and want to go, whether inside or outside of the organization or team. They will provide any tools they have at their disposal to assist teammates as much as possible in the process. Great leaders are never intimidated by others’ rise to the top. They know that it is a valuable asset to have another great leader alongside them, especially one that they have combed along the way. The leader will often take the time out from the daily work routine to provide insights and assistance to others to encourage them to be the best they can be.
10) A clear sense of their personal integrity
A great leader has very clear personal ethics and moral compass and maintains this no matter the environment, both within the workplace and within their personal lives. A great leader will have the same viewpoint on what is right vs. what is wrong, as they have previously taken the time to consider the type of person they want to be in life overall. They are deliberate in this decision and clear in execution. A great leader understands that who they are in life will bleed into their work and especially vice versa.
I believe that the last point is actually the most important one on this list. The concept of separating work and personal life used to be easier done before technology came into the picture. I don’t believe having two different “selves” inside vs. outside of the office can ever truly be accomplished (or should ever be accomplished), but I do believe that it is becoming more and more impossible due to the advent of advanced technology. Technology now has us tethered to our work 24/7. Therefore, if work is starting to integrate into our personal lives, our personal lives are also integrating into our work. We must be extremely clear on the values, ethics and virtues that we possess for ourselves and therefore are bringing to our work.
It has become a trend for companies to create a company-wide value system. However, if these values are not already genuinely reflected by the top leader of the organization personally, then this will not be truly implemented and it is, instead, just another sales gimmick to provide a certain impression to those outside of the organization.
A great leader will understand that just as an economy is made up of people within a country, a company is only as strong as the people who work within the organization. Employees are the company’s important assets and a great leader encourages and provides the tools necessary for others to step up, without ever feeling threatened by this. When one knows very clearly what they stand for and why, one can guide a company with that very clear and unwavering vision. A great leader always knows that the pie is not fixed, but a limitless expansion of opportunities for everyone.
What are the attributes that you have found in great leaders and what are some examples that you have encountered?
Author: Tamara Ashworth, Marketing Strategy professional and founder of Ashworth Strategy
Resources + links:
The Washington Post; Leadership character: The role of integrity
Entrepreneur; Why Trust is the new Marketing Currency.
Originally published at www.ashworthstrategy.com