By Mitch Mitchell
Depending what you consider as a good leader, you'll either believe there are lots of good leaders or very few good leaders. As someone who's been ensconced in leadership for a long time I can honestly say that there's a true dearth of effective leaders in the world.
There are leaders who've been lucky to make a lot of money, but it says more about their business acumen than their leadership capabilities. I've found that many people in leadership positions understand the job they do well but lack in communication skills, relating to their employees, and maximizing the abilities of those who work with or for them.
Some leadership authorities believe the concept of leadership can't be taught; I disagree. The concepts are easily enough to understand, even if it's hard for some to implement them or make them seem authentic.
With that said, let's look at the top 5 criteria towards being a truly effective leader:
When I wrote my first book on leadership 16 years ago, 85% of people in leadership positions had never led anything else in their lives. Let that one sink in for a minute. This means they'd never been selected to pick others for their team; they were never considered as class president of vice president; they never led a group of kids or adults in anything whatsoever… maybe once if they were lucky.
It's hard to build confidence when you're never had the opportunity to do so. Being thrown into a leadership position without the background to be good at it can feel overwhelming.
This is why it's important to exude confidence. If others know you're scared or don't know what you're doing, they'll lose respect for you and either take advantage of you or leave.
Being confident doesn't mean you know how to do everything or know everything. It means that you're ready for the challenge and you let others know it. You don't announce it; they'll feel it for themselves. You can learn anything you don't know and probably know more than you think you do. You just have to believe in yourself.
Integrity means being upfront with others, never taking credit for the work of others, and allowing others to offer their opinions and even to be willing to learn from them.
This is a major failing of a lot of leaders who don't know what they're doing and are worried that someone above them will find out. They tend to be closed off, rarely offering advice or assistance, and are ready to lay claim to anything positive that comes to the department, whether or not they had a hand in it.
Leaders who have confidence don't have a problem with integrity. They know they're not perfect. They understand that others are going to shine from time to time and they welcome it. They're the type that will train others to be leaders some day. They earn the trust of others and never do anything to lose it.
How many people know a leader who immediately blames their employees for something or takes the word of others without giving their employees a chance to explain something? What about someone who won't tell the truth about things that might impact your livelihood?
If leaders aren't loyal to their employees, why should they expect loyalty? They won't get it; no one gets anything they're not willing to give back.
Leaders need to always have the backs of their employees when it pertains to customers and people in other departments. It doesn't mean they shouldn't let employees know when they've done something wrong; it doesn't even mean they don't get discipline. It means they'll research and investigate and be fair, because few incidents are all that egregious. If they are, employees usually know already, and will understand that the leaders are just doing their job.
Loyalty also means protecting your employees from irrational requests and demands of employees that report to them. I've often seen a director in one department admonishing someone else's employee for not doing something that wasn't their job to begin with. Effective leaders will not only protect their employees but make sure those types of things never happen again. Loyalty begets loyalty… always.
For most leaders, this is their strongest suit. There's usually a reason someone is promoted into a position of leadership, and this is at the top of the list.
Yet, it's not always accurate. Sometimes, in cost savings mode, leaders are put over departments they actually know nothing about, and are expected to be able to represent them well in meetings and other things. I've seen where so many employees are affected negatively because the person they report to has never figured out what it is they do.
It's important to either have an understanding of what someone who reports to you does, or have the confidence and integrity to give them a seat at the table if there's any discussion of the work they do. It also shows loyalty by trying to find out at least a little something about what they do, their needs, and figure out ways to help them become better if what they need is beyond your education.
It's also important to have at least a modicum of knowledge of what people who work in other departments do. There isn't a single leader I've ever met at a company of at least 50 people or more who hasn't had to interact with leaders of other departments, and sometimes their employees. Leaders have to know who to go to for information or assistance, and they need to know what kinds of questions to ask.
When all is said and done, knowledge is power; the more you know, the more effective you are and the more you're needed as a leader.
In my opinion, empathy is the most important leadership quality, yet most leaders have no idea to manifest it, or even know what it really means.
Being empathetic means having the ability to take care of the needs of others when needed. It doesn't mean feeling sorry for someone; it doesn't mean taking on their problems, let alone solving them, especially if they're extraneous from the company.
Empathy can be as simple as greeting other employees in a courteous and friendly manner, no matter what job they do in the organization. Empathy is realizing that one of your employees is in emotional distress and at least asking them if they're okay, possibly listening to their problem. Empathy is realizing that sometimes the rules don't apply to every personal situation and doing what's right for the employee, because what's right for the employee is ultimately what's right for the organization.
In the end, doing the right thing is the most empathetic thing effective leaders will do for others, employees or not. It takes courage to do it because it can be uncomfortable. It takes integrity because leaders have to show honest interest. It takes loyalty because you never know what a person needs at any moment, even if it's a quick hello, and you have to
be willing to give it. It takes knowledge of people in general and figuring out whether you need to offer assistance or just lend an ear.
These 5 things might be hard to master, but if you can achieve competence in most of them you'll find yourself being a more effective leader; that will make everyone happy, including yourself.
Mitch Mitchell of T. T. Mitchell Consulting Inc is both a health care finance consultant and an authority on leadership and diversity issues. He's written two books on leadership and has been president of his own company since 2001.
Connect with Mitch: Website | Blog | Twitter | YouTube