This subject is the ‘what is the best grilled cheese sandwich’ of the leadership management conversation. What makes a good leader? What makes a great leader? I know that many leaders spend a good portion of their existence questioning their own actions, looking for solid advice to help them move forward and write blog posts like this to try to help reconcile their leadership style. It’s as cliché as it is necessary to consistently ask — what are the qualities that define great leadership?
First, it’s important to understand that your leadership style is directly tied to your qualities as a leader. Your vision and direction for your company must always be at the forefront of your actions and decisions, but great leaders go one step further and consistently empower employees to play a strong role in the forward momentum that brought you to where you are. Good leaders show up and do the work, great leaders inspire. There are a billion different combinations of qualities that make up great leaders, but there are a few that stand out.
Leaders often fall into the trap of faux empathy. This is pretending to care when in fact, they don’t. While this might be a momentary salve for employees seeking actual empathy, in the long run, it doesn’t hold up any emotional walls. This doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends with your employees, but it does mean that you actually have to express genuine concern for the people that continue to contribute to the growth of your company.
Great leaders will be there to assist with whatever challenges are facing employees, looking for constructive solutions to whatever problems may arise. I know that this can seem daunting to some leaders but showing genuine concern can build respect and positive long-term relationships. You want to build trust with your most trusted employees, one of the best ways to do that is by giving a crap about the problems they face daily.
Congratulations. Either you worked your way to a leadership position, or you’ve started something great and are leading your company to great things. Don’t let it go to your head. Yes, you are the one in charge, but this doesn’t mean that you are better than anyone around you.
There is a fine line between confidence and ego, and while you need to straddle this line to remind yourself and your employees that you are in fact, the boss, you still must maintain a strong sense of self-awareness. This doesn’t just mean keeping your own self in check, but it means being aware of the perspective of your employees’ feelings, projects and goals.
This one might sound strange and can be difficult to maintain, especially in tough times. I believe in positive thinking regardless of whatever is happening around me. I know that sometimes things are bad. Projects fail. Ideas get scrapped. Clients leave and sometimes sales dip. These things happen in business. Your employees will sometimes get stuck in the negative, and it’s up to you as a leader to push them forward. This doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly become a fountain of inspirational quotes, but it does mean that you have to guide your employees past their pessimism and confusion and towards feelings of positivity and hope.
Integrity and Honesty
Guiding employees through negative times doesn’t mean keeping them in the dark about business matters, it means being honest with them about whatever is going on and reigniting forward momentum by opening up the floor to creative solutions and ideas. It means treating people with respect and sticking to a strong code of ethics and consistent behavior. It will only benefit your company to be transparent and honest with your employees, rather than shady and secretive.
Confidence is contagious. This is a statement you’ve heard before. Employees will orbit your confidence, seek your advice and will strive to meet your level of confidence with their quality of work. What this leads to is a more focused approach from your employees. They start to become leaders in their subject areas, plan ahead and consider scenarios. Your confidence in how you run your business creates a more focused and confident staff.
Leadership can be tricky. Being a great leader can be even more difficult. The key is finding yourself, finding your confidence, personal truth and inspiring those behaviors in your employees.