Have you ever wondered why some leaders seem to accomplish their goals almost effortlessly? It’s not about their titles or accolades – it has to do with their character.
While there is no magic formula for legendary management, there are nine important character traits that great leaders tend to share. People that exhibit them are able to inspire crowds and achieve more because they develop deep buy-in from others.
This works because they establish their leadership in three main categories: action, emotion, and thought. Often, we engage others on one or two levels, but seldom on all three. If you are unsure of your leadership abilities, ask yourself a simple question: Will people follow me out of the office and into the rain?
Through action, a leader displays:
1. Confidence even when the situation does not merit it.
When things are going according to plan, most people require little outside motivation. It’s during times of difficulty and downturn that folks begin to look outward and upward for cues. Normally the job responsibilities, monetary and social benefits, and other factors keep employees engaged. Yet, when they feel threatened by a recession or layoffs, these factors lose their clout. For this reason, confidence from leaders is especially important when it is least practical. During tough times, your people need you most of all. If sales are slumping or jobs are being terminated, confidence from leadership helps increase productivity and mitigate a slumping culture. Best of all, it’s absolutely free.
2. Predictability in their actions and expectations of others.
There is one thing that makes hunting harder than target practice: moving goals are harder to hit. Being social creatures with self-interest, most people naturally notice the expectations of their leaders. Many will even adjust their behavior accordingly if incentives, deterrents, and metrics remain constant. Yet, too often, leaders are unsure what they expect of others, or cannot properly communicate these expectations. In such cases, target practice turns into hunting. This downgrades employee energy into frustration and then apathy. Can those around you list the top three things that you expect from them in character and job performance?
3. Frankness in communicating intentions and motives.
When a leader consistently demonstrates her core values through her own actions, others begin to emulate those actions and accommodate those expectations. This is how culture forms. It starts with the leader’s character and externalizes itself in the character of others. Yet, although setting an example is important, one cannot lead strictly by example because actions have multiple interpretations. A leader that hopes to inspire a diligent work ethic by arriving at work early may simply be labeled “a morning person.” For this reason, successful leaders learn to communicate the intentions behind their actions, and then live up to them. Unless employees have no reason to second-guess your motives, they will not wholeheartedly act on your words.
Through emotion, a leader displays:
4. Sympathy instead of mere empathy or pity.
Healthy communities are created around shared values. Not every leader wants to develop a casual relationship with employees, but all successful leaders must skillfully communicate their humanity. This is especially important in situations about which an employee feels strongly. Although you may not share the emotional beliefs of others, you cannot ignore them. Leaders personalize the feelings of others and relate to them on a human values level in instances where it matters to them. This cultivates a deeper sense of buy-in. The capacity to feel the emotions of others is helpful not only in creating community among your employees, but in addressing the needs of your customers as well.
5. Passion as a main personal motivating force.
Every career provides some tangible and emotional benefits. If leaders foster a culture where the motivation for work is strictly monetary, employees will only be engaged on the level of their desires. If however, they see their leaders motivated by true and meaningful passion, they become engaged on a deeper level. When a core purpose beyond self-interest informs us, our work becomes a much more significant pursuit. For this reason, leaders who can effectively convey their passion as their main motivating force make their enthusiasm contagious and thus better succeed.
6. Patience in dealing with divergent outlooks.
By nature, humans have a hard time stepping out of their own worldviews and assumptions. For this reason, when we hear ideas that conflict with ours, we often dismiss them without due consideration. In doing so, we perform our test under the wrong laboratory conditions. Good leaders have self-knowledge and can recognize when others share different core beliefs. Because growth comes from diversity, they are especially patient with those who have different belief systems or ways of working. By specially cultivating patience in such situations, they create an important ideological balance where ideas and innovation can flourish. In doing so, they avert a large source of employee dissatisfaction and generate increased respect for the leader.
Through thought, a leader displays:
7. Creativity tempered with palpable practicality.
Being a product of the heart, creativity must be paired with a sense of logic. Every artist explains that ingenuity comes from the imposition of limitations. By defining the project with specific and practical guidelines, creativity is given a specific place in which to thrive. When creativity overpowers logic, technology is created for the sake of its sophistication, not its relevance to market needs. Or advertising is made that is artistic, but does not accomplish the client’s goals. For this reason, practicality does not impair creativity, but instead enhances and directs it. Leaders embody this balance and cultivate it in others.
8. Fairness in making unbiased and principled judgments
One of the quickest ways to undermine employee enthusiasm is the perception of favoritism. It undermines the fundamental sense of justice and fair play that incentivizes employees. Meritocracy gives everybody an equal feeling of opportunity and draws attention to quality of work. The best way to avoid even the accusation of bias is to base your decisions of a set of unchanging principles. The designers who work for Steve Jobs know that their boss looks for minimalism, efficiency, and cleanliness of design. Because of this, they have a metric by which they can judge the quality of their work. Each mistake becomes a learning opportunity, and establishes precedents that help employees tailor their performance.
9. Discipline in maintaining steadfast focus on key issues.
As much as visionary leadership is important, without discipline, visions seldom become reality. Individuals who are easily distracted by the day-to-day do not maintain a strategic focus on the key long-term issues. For this reason, the best leaders are able to delegate aspects of a project while keeping their focus on a set of key issues. With this focus, they keep track of the overarching picture and better arrange each of the individual pieces into the overall strategic blueprint. Folks who lack this ability may have good ideas but cannot manage the project or maintain direction in complex and multi-faceted projects.