We recently discussed what makes a bad manager and how dangerous they are to an organization.
Poor leadership is an even bigger issue.
Some individuals may present themselves as leaders; unfortunately, at the end of the day, they prove not having what it takes to successfully have others accept their leadership - you cannot impose leadership, it has to be willingly accepted by those led.
What makes a true leader?
First of all, a leader needs a vision.
An actual vision, something that will make their teams and followers get up happily every morning to go and 'get'.
Vision, or mission statement such as the one below don’t help (yes, it is real!):
“The New Ventures Mission is to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings."
Do you feel like joining this company after reading this – if you can understand what they are trying to say?
We didn't think so!
Now, you will want to work for a firm that presents itself in a simple and efficient manner:
"Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first."
Simple. Powerful. To the point.
This statement clearly paves the way for a strong leadership:
It says that the company’s priority is its workforce because through their workforce they will be a successful business.
Obviously, a company with such a strong vision cannot be run by managers.
They need leaders.
Which brings us to the topic of the day:
How would you spot a leader? What are the criteria a leader must be able to demonstrate?
There are 10 main criteria you need to look for in a leader (in no particular order):
To paraphrase Voltaire (and incidentally Benjamin Parker!), with great power comes great temptation.
A leader in a key position has a great influence and / or is a decision maker. Many will try to bribe them in a way or another – their decisions may worth millions.
A true leader will never even consider for a minute dealing with companies who try to ‘buy’ their verdicts.
2. Service above self
This is in direct relationship with the previous point.
Ego, pride and arrogance are not leadership attributes. A leader is only as good as their teams’ approval to be led by them.
For that, they need to develop trust, confidence and loyalty.
The main reasons why leaders are preferable vs. managers is that the latter don’t embody the company they work for, while a leader is the living representation of the firm.
The downside of this?
When the leader leaves the company, it takes times for the teams to adjust to a new leadership.
Leaders are performers, they know that success is never the fruit of a ‘one man show’, while most managers think they can handle ‘all by themselves’.
Leaders need a team… to lead.
Even in a worst situation, because their teams know what is expected from them and since they believe in their leader, the company will most likely perform better than many of its competitors because they try harder.
Leaders communicate, and communicate well.
It doesn’t mean that they spend their time talking – then it is not communication anymore, it is soliloquizing and eventually no one cares.
A leader knows when to speak and when not; they are also active listeners and fluid thinkers.
Every member of their teams, regardless of their hieratical status, know that their leader is approachable without fuss and can be talked to and will be actively and positively listened to.
‘One way fits all’ type of management isn’t a viable option anymore.
Leaders know that they need to adapt their management style and approach to all contexts and types of environments.
However, they are aware that while team members want their individualities to be recognized, they expect continuity and stability from management.
What looks an impossible conundrum must nevertheless be properly addressed; this is the reason why leaders must clearly define their management method and ensure that all are aware of it.
On the other hand, while sanctuarying their management style core, they systematically adapt to each individuality and issue at hand.
Leaders are like a lighthouse or a compass to their teams.
Therefore, they need to always remain focused on their objectives.
It does mean that they know when to act and when not; they can efficiently and quickly analyze an issue and make the immediate decision that will eventually solve it:
No detail is too small for leaders to ignore and not compute them.
Leaders are real life action figures!
7. Promote changes
The world is endlessly changing.
A leader who promotes status quo is doomed to fail.
It is said that dinosaurs perished because they couldn’t adapt to Earth new environment.
The same can be said for corporations:
Leaders must have a dynamic vision of their job, ensuring that the teams they are leading are welcoming innovation, changes and growth.
What was relevant and positive five years ago – or even in some cases only a quarter ago – might jeopardize the firm’s future today. Leaders acknowledge environmental changes (e.g. markets shift), welcome them and quickly adapt.
As discussed in previous point, leaders must be able to adapt efficiently to any uncontrollable changes.
So-called leaders who do not understand that disconnect themselves from the market and lose business:
As the old saying goes, ‘if you don’t listen to your customers and give them what they want, someone else will be more than happy to’.
Leaders find absolute principles irrelevant – they are what made the dinosaurs extinct -, they continuously listen to the market and give them what they want as long as it is in-line with the company’s core business (which may also change as needed – look at Coca-Cola, Disney or Google!).
Leaders are committed to success – that’s the reason why they don’t sit on inflexible principles.
They are also committed – invested – to their teams.
They build them, coach them, grow them; they care for them.
They are accountable to their teams – much more than they are accountable to their own management.
This is one of the main differences with managers:
Managers think that their teams are accountable to them, while leaders know that it is the other way around – this is why leaders are more efficient because they know where the power to succeed is.
They don’t fool themselves.
Flexibility does not mean anarchy!
Leaders know that to succeed they must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and how to do it.
Once this is set, they must organize the various steps and sub-objectives to better meter progress – of course, as mentioned before, leaving enough free space to easily manoeuver to adapt with very little possible delay to new circumstances and environmental changes.
It does mean that leaders must set a clear discipline in the way they work and what to expect from their teams.
The imposed discipline cannot be compromised:
An iron hand in a velvet glove.
You might think that being a leader is difficult.
It is true: not everyone can be a leader. But everyone can try.
Do you see yourself as leader material? What do you think of those criteria?