It’s said that great leaders are born, not made. Most of us have met or been lucky enough to work with people like that. You know the people we’re talking about: charismatic, natural leaders. We’re drawn to them like moths to a flame because they have a special something that compels us to take their advice to heart or buy whatever they’re selling. They’re the people who bring out the best in us.
And then there are some unfortunate enough to work with people in leadership positions whose leadership qualities are woefully lacking, people who demonstrate daily what leadership isn’t. While there may be a ‘leader’ gene or quality unique to the lucky among us, leadership is also a skill – or a series of skills – that can be learned, acquired and developed if you put in the effort.
Whether you know it or not, you already possess many of the characteristics you need to be the kind of leader you want to be, qualities that are unique to you. What follows are what we think of as the ingredients that go into making a great leader. It’s not a one-size-fits-all formula. Like any good recipe, use this information as the basis for creating the leader you want to be.
cultivate a positive atmosphere
As a leader, you teach your team how to respond to crises, challenges and chaos by how you respond. Clear, level-headed decision making in the face of business challenges tells employees you’re in charge and are steering the ship capably through rough waters.
A confident, reassured workforce is less distracted and more focused and productive than a flock of chickens alarmed by the sky falling. Help your team stay focused on the big picture. Humour at the right time goes a long way to ease tensions and reduce stress. It unites people and lightens the load. Being a leader doesn't mean you have to rule with an iron fist. Some of our most respected leaders are people we're able to laugh with.
build the best team possible
You don’t have to have all the answers, unless you like working in a vacuum. Recruit people with a broad range of personal and professional experiences. Challenge them to find real, creative solutions. Hold frequent conversations with your workforce. And listen to what they have to say. Great leaders learn from those they manage
encourage life-long learning
Any good leader will tell you there’s always something new to learn. Whether you’re a fresh-faced 18-year-old starting your first job or an experienced 58-year-old looking forward to retirement, there’s always time for learning. Look for ways to improve your skills and develop yourself personally. Beyond that, encourage everyone you manage to do the same. Everyone wins.
know your business
Your boots-on-the-ground experience makes you more credible. While you don’t need to understand every facet of each job required to make your organization function, make sure your division managers do. And make sure you understand how each piece fits into the big picture.
enhance your people skills
Your conversational communication should be direct, sincere, credible and respectful. If you’re not naturally comfortable speaking to groups, find an organization or trainer who can help you enhance your ability to speak publicly. Consider taking improvisational theatre classes – they help you think on your feet, listen and respond in the moment, critical to those Q&As that arise from time to time.
Delegating means you trust your team to execute their responsibilities and take on new ones. This is a necessary part of their growth and development in the organization and helps them develop their own leadership capabilities. Good leaders help create more leaders.
lead by example
Don’t ask your team to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. Let them see you rolling your sleeves up, staying late when necessary and coming in early when a deadline looms. You’re not telling them what you expect as much as leading by example. Inspiring them to bring their best to the organization because you do, makes everyone feel invested in the company’s success. The same goes for being well-rounded. Balance your work and life, and communicate it to your team so they feel encouraged to do the same. You want a happy, high-functioning workforce; encouraging work-life balance is how you achieve that.
give credit where it’s due
Recognize and show your appreciation for a job well done. Be sincere and honest with your praise – people can sense when you’re not. They’ll also know when you’re confident in their abilities and respond accordingly. Recognize that everyone works differently and is motivated by different things. Think about the cultural, gender, religious and social diversity in your organization; be sensitive to differences when dealing with workers and customize your approach accordingly. Realize that the same factors that differentiate us from each other are a great source of strength and increased capabilities that need to be recognized and nurtured. This is the field from which leaders of tomorrow will rise.
Good leaders think strategically and analytically. They’re flexible and agile. While they may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, they can alter their course in order to go around obstacles that seem insurmountable. They’re innovative and creative, and usually have strong planning and organizational skills (or have hired an assistant who does!) Strong leaders are problem solvers but not before they empower their teams to come up with workable solutions. Most importantly, great leaders are honest and ethical; they exude strength of character and value transparency.
As a good leader, you want to create core values and a corporate vision that others will adopt, and share them in ways that inspire and motivate others to bring their best to the task. You can be the person people want to follow.