I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked what one needs to be a successful leader. There is a lot that goes into great leadership. But, in my opinion, these five elements are the most critical.
1. Defined Values
Leadership begins with leadership of self! And for me that means, the number one tip that I would give to any current leader or anyone who wants to step into a leadership role is to know who you are and what you stand for. Those of us who are ambitious get so busy driving to progress and so busy with the day-to-day "running" of a business that this very important foundation piece is forgotten. Defining our personal leadership values is fundamental because they should drive every decision we make. Often times, it’s not until a sticky situation arises that we realize we haven’t laid the ground-work for what will help us through these times. Your personal leadership values act as your internal compass. To determine your values you need to put aside your business goals - like hitting revenue targets, expanding globally, increasing your team etc. - and ask yourself what you stand for, what attributes you most admire and what lines you will not cross. What do we say about a defect or a recall? How do we support an employee with an episode of mental illness? How do we handle pressure from shareholders and flat revenue lines? What do we say to the bank when we are struggling? Or one of my favourites, do we pay for software licences for all of our employees? These questions need to be asked before you get into difficult situations because you will get into difficult situations at one point or another and your inner compass will be your guiding light.
Bottom Line: You must define your personal leadership values and know what you stand for before you can lead others.
Integrity relates directly to your personal leadership values and inner compass. In my experience, with Westernized businesses specifically, we are experiencing a monumental lack of integrity. I'd list companies but we don't have the space. And the ripple effect, even when it seems to be a minor lack of integrity, has huge implications on just about everything from women’s equality to airbag recalls. When we don’t have integrity and we don’t believe that people will make the right decisions if we give them the correct information, we are setting ourselves up for long-term damage.
Bottom Line: You can be successful for a long period of time but a lack of integrity will catch up to you, eventually, each and every time.
There are one billion books written on vision and it’s a very common training exercise to talk about vision and mission statements etc. What I mean by vision is simply give your team, large or small, a destination. This doesn’t mean giving them goals. A million dollar revenue target is not a part of your vision. Nor is tripling your client base. Your vision is a very specific destination; what will the place that you are moving towards look like when you get there? If you put it in terms of a road trip, we never get in a car without knowing where it is we want to go. We don’t necessarily know the route we are going to take - there are many ways we can get to our destination - but we have to know where we are going. Particularly if you are trying to get a whole bunch of people to come along for the ride.
Bottom Line: If you want to make your ride an easy and successful one everybody must want to go to the same place. But first, they need a very clear vision of where you are going.
4. Communication Skills
I’m not saying you have to be the best orator in the world. I’m not saying that you have to be a charismatic, media hungry leader. You can be a quiet, reticent leader but one of your fundamental responsibilities is, on an on-going basis and in a consistent way, to communicate the vision. I’ve heard many leaders say, “well, I told them!” To which I say, “and you will tell them again, and again, and again, and again.” Because we all hear what we want to hear. Every message that you give to your team or to your clients goes through multiple group filters and multiple personal filters. So, if you think that everyone is going to be on the same page after a one-time communication effort, you’re on a fool’s mission. Things will come up along the way that will lead people to believe that your destination has changed when, in reality, you might just be taking a detour.
Bottom line: Communicate your vision in a consistent way until you are blue in the face.
This is the one time in life that enabling is a good thing. As a leader your job is to enable; it’s to enable other people to contribute; it’s to enable other people to access their knowledge base; it’s to enable other people to be innovative; it’s to enable other people to contribute; it’s to enable other people to make decisions; it’s to enable other people to get it done. Your job as a leader is not to know everything. Your job is to communicate the destination; what you want it to look like and feel like and be like when you get there. And then you’ve got to get out of people’s way and let them know that they are respected enough and intelligent enough to get it done. It doesn’t matter if they are a phone operator taking the calls that are coming into a busy call centre, or if they have been put in charge of a new technology development; your job is to make sure that they know how their work supports the destination and that you trust them to get it done.
Bottom line: You don’t need to have all of the answers. If you’re not consistently asking questions, and encouraging people to participate in conversation and make decisions, you are not an enabler.
Ultimately, I think many of us get so caught up in our careers - the tactical execution of projects and getting that next promotion - that we forget that a lot of what makes us successful leaders comes from inside ourselves.