As Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” A leader is one who inspires people to do great things because they want to do great things. There is a huge difference between a boss and a leader. Unfortunately we don’t teach people how to be great leaders. We throw people into management roles, give them a few pointers on HR rules (maybe), discuss meeting deadlines and drive performance (with no discussion on how) and expect them to succeed. It’s hard enough to succeed as a manager, but to be a leader we need to focus on the human component…how to build trust and how to inspire people to be great.
Here are my 11 skills every leader needs, though sadly very few possess.
High standards, strong ethics and integrity. Leaders reflect high standards, strong ethics and integrity in everything they do, and demonstrate to others that you don’t have to compromise any of these to be successful.
2. Passion to create something bigger than themselves. It takes the contribution of many to be successful. The team is only as good as its weakest link and thus everyone has to be strong and succeed. Leaders recognize the importance of creating success in others, they want people to succeed and be great, and give them every opportunity to do so.
3. Know when and how to display emotions. Nothing means more to people than feeling like they are cared for, valued and important. Every leader knows the importance of being human and demonstrating they care about their people. They also understand that losing control of emotions is a losing proposition. They have learned to manage their emotions instead of letting their emotions manage them.
4. Communication skills are essential. We live in a multicultural, multigenerational world and that brings a wide and varying perspective on everything from religion to politics to accepted workplace behavior and more. Every leader needs to learn how to set aside their own biases and learn to communicate with everyone, not just the people who think like them.
5. Students of learning. All great leaders see themselves as students of learning, they have a ‘beginner’s mind’ and are open to new ideas, ways of thinking and never, ever believe they know it all.
6. Know how to manage up, not just down. Successful leaders know that learning to manage up is critical. When their manager makes unreasonable or unrealistic requests, when there is pressure to blame someone, strong leaders know how to defend their team and manage through this. Saying yes is easy. Standing up for your team and supporting them by facing higher ups and saying no isn’t easy or often popular.
7. Willingness to be vulnerable. Every leader recognizes they can and do admit their mistakes, they ask for help, they seek out others’ advice, ideas and support, and don’t see any of this as weakness.
8. Ability to reinvent yourself or your business. Supervisors implement, leaders create. That means an ability and willingness to respond to changes in the business landscape quickly. It includes creating your own personal brand and managing your career.
9. Understands the importance of structure. Every successful leader understands the importance of structure in building an organization or a team, as well as the importance of flexibility within the structure.
10. Success is a journey. The expression success is a journey, not a destination applies to leadership. All strong leaders are success-oriented but understand that the definition of success will change, and that little things make big things happen. It’s about doing the little things right and doing them consistently that is going to lead to success, not about a magic bullet.
11. Genuinely care about others. How we chose to be in relationships with other human beings creates or destroys trust, builds open communication channels or shuts them down and develops others or keeps them stagnant. When we care about others it shows and we attract and retain talent, we build strong relationships inside and outside the company and people do great things because they want to.
John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of UCLA was a man who not only understood basketball but also understood leadership. His Pyramid of Success which defines the business leadership skills he considered essential for success and his 12 lessons in leadership speak to the character of the person, understanding that character (who the person is), is a bigger factor in determining results than ability. Leadership isn’t a technique. It isn’t a methodology. And it’s what is most missing from leadership training and what most leaders lack altogether.