For some of you, the title of this article may fly in the face of what you have read about successful leaders – that they need to have specific attributes and style to be successful, or that they create such high-performing teams that they become unnecessary.
Although there are certainly common attributes of successful leaders, we have found that they can come in all shapes, sizes, and styles…how you lead truly depends on who you are. The first step is truly understanding who you are. Have you taken the time over the past few years to reflect back on why you’ve done what you’ve done? What you’ve learned over the years? What have you accomplished, and, more importantly what attributes have caused you to be successful? What are the common themes of feedback you’ve received over the years?
And, now that you know yourself, to what extent does that match the perception others have of you? Are you in the habit of asking for feedback from a 360-view? Are you making sure it’s specific and balanced? Although asking for feedback and knowing how you’re perceived sounds like common sense, it is not common practice. Although it may be uncomfortable at first, if you get in the habit of sincerely asking for feedback and then sincerely doing something about it, people will see you as sincerely caring about their input and be more open to suggestions the next time.
Not surprisingly, the most common coaching point is “managing perception.” Like it or not, perception is reality in any organization, and you can’t determine to what extent you need to focus on changing a perception unless you know “the book on you” – what it is and how you want it to read.
Having assessed and coached hundreds of global leaders, we’re often asked “What does it take to be a successful leader?” Below are our observations that we hope you find helpful and can perhaps use as a roadmap for your own development.
These are what we refer to as “the ticket to entry” in any discussion of leadership and the potential to assume larger roles in an organization.
- Accountable – Doing what you say you’re going to do…having a high “say-do” ratio…being dependable….delivering results…meeting or exceeding performance objectives.
- Credible – Believable…being seen as doing the right thing vs. having any hidden agendas…having built a solid foundation of experience that you are speaking from a base of knowledge.
- Decisive – Having courage in your convictions…Being able to make a decision without all the data…Knowing when to stop getting more input and “make the call.”
- Driven – Having the desire to stretch outside of your comfort zone…highly self-motivated….always seeking to “over deliver” and exceed expectations…always doing more than asked.
- Adaptable – Having the flexibility to adapt to internal changes in the organization or external fluctuations in the marketplace…seeing change as a positive, as unearthing new possibilities vs. being resistant.
- “Quick Study” – Not necessarily having the highest IQ, but having the resourcefulness and know-how to figure out how to get up to speed quickly in any new situation, whether it be through self study or leveraging the knowledge of others.
The Stand Outs
These are attributes that we don’t see very frequently, so when we do, they stand out as unique.
- Ability to Influence – This goes well beyond interpersonal skills and encompasses organizational knowledge – knowing who the key stakeholders are and being able to flex your communication style to see things from their perspective to get buy-in.
- Genuinely Cares – Unfortunately all too often we work with leaders who see people as a “means to an end”…this characteristic stems from really caring about the people who work for and with you, and getting to know them and value them for the individual they are.
- Risk Taker – We’re not referring to hair-brained ideas here, but thoughtful, creative, prudent risk taking…thinking outside of the box…challenging the sacred cows of an organization…never being satisfied with the status quo.
- Mature – This has nothing to do with age or experience, but with being self aware…knowing what your strengths and development needs are…being a life-long learner…being comfortable in your own skin, confident in the person you are and the style you have.
- Passion for the Customer – Many think this would be in the “Basics” category, but we find many leaders becoming too internally focused and not being conscious of needing to stay close to the customer, and to continually drive the customer-centric view down to their teams.
- Innovative – This could be creating something from scratch, inventing something new, or simply doing things differently…Or, if you’re not particularly creative, surrounding yourself with those people and creating the environment that allows new ideas to bloom.
The Missing Pieces
As you would expect, there are areas where even the most successful leaders continually struggle and aspire to reach.
- Strategic Thinking – Although well intended, many leaders get bogged down with daily firefighting or the transactional nature of their businesses and don’t consciously carve out time to think long term and set a vision for where they want their organization to go.
- Leadership Flexibility – Staying true to who you are doesn’t mean only having one style of leadership…it’s easy to lead a team of people like you, but much more difficult (and much more effective ) to lead a diverse team of individuals…and, their job is not to adjust to your style, but for you to understand how best to influence and motivate them as individuals and as a total team.
- Communication Savviness – Most leaders communicate well in specific scenarios, but many still focus on trying to be equally effective on all fronts: with individuals, small – large groups, across all levels of an organization, in formal presentations or informal networking events.
- Presence – Like it or not, the way in which you present yourself goes a long way in people’s impression of you as a leader, whether it be how you dress, how you speak, or the impression you leave…many people we coach want to prove they can be successful without this, but they end up being overlooked or misperceived because they’re not “memorable.”
- Ability to Build a Following – This goes beyond positional power, or people doing what you ask them to do because they work for you…you know when you’ve developed followers when people say “ I don’t care what the job is, I just want to work for them again.”
- Proactive Career Planning – Surprisingly, the majority of the leaders we have assessed have never sat down and thought about where they wanted to go from a career perspective, and the gaps they needed to fill to get there…Most have had a sponsor who has called them and told them what job to go to next…While having sponsors is certainly important, what happens if the sponsor leaves the company? Or falls out of favor? Many realize too late that they haven’t built a broad network or have pigeon-holed themselves unintentionally by having a passive approach to their own development.