What is a good leader like? 3 qualities that define great leadership.
Guestblog by Fernando Lanzer.
I’ve been working with leadership issues for decades; very early in my life I experienced what leadership was about. Not in a grandiose way, leading thousands to the path of glory; but rather in a very simple and ordinary way, helping people do things at school or among childhood friends. I became “class president” in high school and student representative in college. As a professional manager and psychologist, I dedicated my work life to developing other people’s leadership skills, while at the same time I developed my own as a by-product.
After all these years, I came to my personal understanding about what successful leaders are about. Quite simply, I see a good leaders as someone who is able to do three things: (1) realize that we are all in the same boat; (2) stand up and say “here is my vision”; and (3) be honest.
No amazing revelations, I suppose. Rather, it’s more like distilling 60 years of experience and boiling that down to its essence: these three things.
We’re all in the same boat
A real leader is very aware of her responsibilities towards the team that she is leading. She feels part of that team, not someone separate. She thinks in terms of “us”, rather than “me” and “them”.
The attitude transcends the leader and his team. It includes the team and the organization of which the team is a part of. We are in this together means the whole organization is together. It’s not just our team, it’s all our teams. We are not competing with each other internally, the organization is together. We cannot blame other teams for the organization’s failures, we are in this together. We cannot say that “it is not our problem, we did our part but somebody in IT screwed up.” We take joint responsibility and we try to help each other out, we try to make the whole organization successful.
On a larger scale, the leader’s attitude transcends the organization as well. It includes the communities in which the organization operates, and even beyond that. It basically includes the whole planet, all of humanity. It does not mean that the leader feels like an omnipotent megalomaniac, but rather that she feels a sense of “being there” in the world, not just the team, not just the organization.
If a disaster happens on a far corner of the planet, the effective leader does not think: “that’s not my problem, we don’t even have a branch there”. Rather, he thinks “how will this have an effect on my team, my organization? Is there something I can do about it?
The effective leader realizes that we are all connected, directly or indirectly, and that seemingly unrelated occurrences may affect businesses across geography or over time.
“This is my vision”
This is arguably the essence of leadership: presenting your vision. It implies actually three different, but equally important, things:
- Having a compelling “vision”
- Daring to propose it
- Communicating it effectively
Let’s start with having a “vision”. What is a “vision” to begin with? It is not simply a “slogan” or a strong, catchy, phrase used to inspire others. It is often mistakenly considered as such, unfortunately.
A “vision” is a description of what the organization should ultimately be like. Having a vision means that the leader is able to visualize, in her mind, what the team will look like, ideally. It is a mental picture of how people should work together, how they will service their clients, what goals they will aim for, what will be their strengths.
It is to a large extent a statement of ambition (something that is not there yet), but it goes beyond strategic business objectives to include a way of working, an organization’s desired climate and culture.
Some people have this ability to “see” a desired future. Yet often they do not dare propose it and advocate it. Many people will talk in private or in side conversations about how they know what is wrong with the world (or with the organization) and what is needed to fix it. But when offered the opportunity to speak up to a group of people, or to a larger audience bigger than their friends around the water cooler, they lack the courage to do it.
Leadership takes courage. Many people are afraid to be criticized, afraid of rejection. They lack confidence in their own ideas, or in their ability to communicate them effectively. An effective leader does not lack fear. She feels fear like any human being. But she herself feels so inspired by her vision that she dares to stand by it. She dares to face the possibilities of criticism and rejection and welcomes the opportunity to share her vision with others.
The third aspect of “here is my vision” refers to communication skills. You don’t need to be a “showman” but you certainly need to be able to convey your vision in an inspiring way. If you mumble incomprehensibly in front of an audience, large or small, or if you sound utterly boring, that won’t cut it.
Honesty may seem too obvious to be mentioned, a pre-requisite to operate in any situation, but it is not that simple. “Honesty” here means being frank about what is going on. And it starts with being frank with yourself.
An effective leader tells it like it is. He does not beat around the bush, he does not try to “gild the lily”. By doing so, he earns trust and credibility. And he begins by being honest with himself.
About the author:
Fernando Lanzer is a consultant in Organizational Culture and Leadership Development, based in Amstelveen and working with clients in five different continents. Formerly an HR executive in banking, he is the author of “Take Off Your Glasses”, available on amazon.co.uk. He keeps a blog at fernandolanzer.com and a website at www.LCOpartners.com.