Why Should Anyone Want To Follow Your Leadership?
Truly great leaders who influence and get results from others and create exceptional value are hard to find. Finding leadership is kind of like trying to find the Holy Grail: It would be a heck of a lot easier if someone would just show us where it’s at.
A great leader can be leading a Girl Scout troop or a Fortune 100 company. However, there are certain characteristics that exceptional leaders have in common. If you want to earn the right to be called “leader,” ask yourself if you:
Inspire a vision
The word “vision” almost seems mystical, as if the leader has a crystal ball or supreme intellectual abilities. But my experience is that a good visionary isn’t a prodigy, a whiz kid or a genius. Rather, they are an intuitive risk-taker with the ability to see things as they could be. They are also rooted enough that they can inspire others to understand how the vision is attainable with current resources and competitive advantages. Hand-in-hand with this inspirational ability is confidence (not to be confused with cockiness). Leaders appear to be confident at all times, and in a crisis, morale and productivity improve with confident leaders instead of spiraling downward.
Act with honesty and exhibit solid values
Leadership is about how to be, not how to do. And the number one action to model is absolute honesty. Leaders have to be able to convince their followers they are worth following, because if there is even a scent of dishonesty in the air, people will turn away. With a high level of trust, an organization will achieve more than it dreamed possible. Exhibiting values such as being accountable, committed, courageous, humble and respectful of others means you are leading by example.
Peter Drucker, the granddaddy of modern day management, said a leader’s job is not to provide energy, but to release energy. I like that statement because I envision a leader with infectious passion. This characteristic gives leaders the ability to influence people to follow their vision. It provides the energy to never get tired of explaining, teaching and communicating their vision to others. A leader’s passion pushes followers to overcome their fear and doubt and inspires others to take risks that lead to new strategies, ground-breaking products and innovative processes.
Remain authentic and transparent
Followers watch what leaders do more closely than listen to what they say. They may be nodding in agreement when you talk, but as soon as you walk away, they observe whether your actions match your words. Ask yourself if you are a “what you see is what you get” type of person. This characteristic is important because if a leader’s personal values are not predictable, his or her followers will not know what to expect or how to act. Most excellent leaders also have a good sense of humor and can laugh at mistakes and mishaps.
Can tell a good story
Leaders with the right stuff are good storytellers and communicators. When they speak about their vision, they are inspiring and convincing. They can clearly explain their point of view about their products and / or services, markets, value proposition, and strategies. Oftentimes, these points of view are explained with parables, anecdotes, and metaphors to get the message across. Just as important as storytelling is the ability to listen. All great leaders I know are also supremely able listeners.
Are competent in all functional areas
Effective leaders don’t need deep expertise in every function of their organization, but they do need a basic competency to make sure all elements of the organization are pointed in the same direction. First-class leaders are able to establish priorities, make decisions in a reasonable amount of time, delegate appropriately and recognize talent. They know their business so well that they can push for action and results without getting bogged down by insignificant issues.
One final note: I have listed competency, or skill, as the last important characteristic. That’s because at the heart of good leadership is the heart of someone who truly wants to make a difference in the lives of others. It’s not about what you do, but is about who you are. Sometimes leadership can be a burden, but leaders with the right stuff believe it’s a load worth bearing because they have a strong sense of purpose. And that’s the most important characteristic to earn the right to be called “leader.”
Mark W. Sheffert (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder, chairman and CEO of Manchester Companies Inc., a Minneapolis-based board and management advisory firm specializing in business recovery, transformation, performance improvement, board governance, and litigation support.