It seems like everywhere you look there’s a new blog, report or book on leadership trends and tips. From Harvard Business Review research on how to be a stronger, better leader, to Inc. and Fast Company articles listing the common traits of truly exceptional people – leadership advice is in no short supply. Even our very own guest blogger, Ed Nathanson, has drawn parallels and leadership lessons from some of our favorite characters from Star Wars, The Game of Thrones, Karate Kid, DC and Marvel (and he’s just getting started!).
The abundance of articles covering the dos and don’ts of leadership aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – which is a good thing. People want to know how to become a leader that others want to follow. They don’t want to manage people, they want to be a great manager of people.
Great leaders aren’t born overnight. They don’t fit a specific, repeatable mold, but they do share a few common similarities in how they interpret and handle situations. I sat down with a few of my friends and colleagues and asked them to list the attributes of their favorite leaders, and then I did a little digging to see what some of the world’s greatest leaders thought about those characteristics.
5 Traits of Exceptional Leaders:
1. Empowers and motivates.
“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan
Individuals and teams perform better when they feel empowered and motivated. Drumming up motivation goes beyond hanging up an inspiring poster on the wall and sending out an occasional “go team!” email (though, I’d argue those aren’t bad ideas). It’s about giving people the feeling of empowerment and entitlement. Empowerment comes from the top, with clear communication that people have the authority and trust to do their job.
2. Really listens.
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” – Larry King
Great leaders are always striving to learn and become better, and one of the truest ways to learn is to listen. There’s nothing more frustrating than a person who refuses to listen. When individuals find themselves repeating the same information over and over and having it fall on deaf ears, it becomes exhausting. People are naturally drawn to leaders who are willing to hear them out, listen to their ideas, and take their suggestions and feedback.
3. Delegates, not micromanages.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” —Theodore Roosevelt
Micromanagement can kill morale and cause people to leave. Smart leaders hire people who compliment their skills and fill in the gaps where their expertise is not as deep. They trust the people they work with and have no problem delegating projects. They are encouraging and inspire employees along the way, rather than question their decisions and progress. And, most importantly, they don’t take credit for the work of others and understand that an acknowledgement for a job well done goes a very, very long way.
4. Takes ownership and responsibility.
“Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses.” – Mitt Romney
One of the most important things about being a leader is taking ownership for your actions. Offering up excuses and pushing blame on others is cowardly. Great leaders stand up for their team and protect them from fallout. They lead by example, showing it’s just as important to admit defeat and mistakes, as it is to celebrate success.
5. Acts Consistently.
“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” – Jon Stewart.
Each of the four values mentioned above fall to the wayside if leaders are not consistent. Great leaders take great pride in knowing their values, and remain steadfast in what they stand for as a person. They’re consistent with the way they treat their employees. They’re consistent with their logic and how they approach tough situations. They’re consistent with how they work with others. Irrational and sporadic behaviors don’t generate trust and respect, they drive fear and anger, which is why consistency is everything.
Bonus: Isn’t afraid to have fun and encourage people to love what they do.
The truth of the matter is, we spend most of our lives working. The exceptional leaders out there understand the occasional personal sacrifices we have to make in order to hit a deadline or reach a goal. That’s why they’re not afraid to have a little fun. And, as Dale Carnegie said, “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”
What do you think? Leave a comment below!