What’s leadership? Who is an effective leader? The answers to both questions are relative to every organization out there -- whether large or small. The truth is, there is no one set of rules that makes for an effective leader: Some people have it, and some don’t. Leadership encompasses a slew of characteristics, and different people embody different traits.
But, starting from the top: Motivation and communication are two traits every leader should have. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say they are the two most important traits. If you can’t motivate your team or can’t communicate your ideas in a clear, concise manner, you’re gonna stink as a leader. I mean, you may be able to lead, but who is going to follow?
When I write about social media effectiveness, I talk about the four “E’s” (Engage, Educate, Enthusiasm, Evangelism), so let me now describe the seven key “P’s” for leading. You don’t have to have them all, but any and all will surely help if you want to be a successful leader.
While leadership isn’t exclusive to extroverts, a leader must have the ability to work a crowd and get some enjoyment out of engaging with a large and diverse number of people. A charismatic leader is often thought of as an effective leader. And, I won’t disagree with that, but I’d issue a word of caution: There’s a fine line between being charismatic and being perceived as disingenuous and phony. You have to be careful with that fine line. Develop a bit of an attitude, so people know what to expect. It works for Donald Trump. It works for Hillary Clinton. Despite whether you vote for either --- they have the P!
Another way to show personality is through humor or self-deprecation. More often than not, a sense of humor, or the tendency to poke fun at yourself, helps a leader navigate the rough patches of any crisis your company might suffer. Keeping a clear and level-headed approach can be an asset during a moment of chaos. One thing I would caution against would be that when you do try to land a joke, you do so with considerable care about the target. Jokes are all the rave when everyone finds them funny.
When the room temperature cools down a few degrees, however, all your intentions to be funny fly out the window. People will remember you, but for the wrong reasons. So, proceed cautiously but do keep your sense of humor.
Trying to persuade a diverse group of people can be a challenging task for any leader. At times, the effort feels like herding cats. This is where your persuasive communication skills come in handy. As the leader of a company, you'll have to deliver a few keynote addresses or other speeches -- internally and externally -- and your message needs to get across to all in attendance.
Keep in mind that you’ll be addressing people with varying degrees of education and with perches at every rung of the ladder -- from fellow c-suite dwellers to other types of company leaders, to the administrative team. In order for your message to reach all, communicate in the jargon of the group or organization and make sure your message fits that audience. If not, you won’t be seen as an effective thought leader.
As a regular keynote speaker myself, I have given speeches to a variety of organizations. Some have been in my wheelhouse of marketing and business -- others, not so much. But the goal is the same: to reach my audience members, make an impact and be persuasive enough that they see where I’m coming from.
The takeaway here is the old KISS principle. Keep it simple, stupid! And always be closing!
3 (and 4). Patience and perception
Patience and persistence are the essential twins you need to get things done. We live in an age of instant gratification, where everything has to happen now. Despite that, patience is a virtue, and every leader needs a healthy dose of patience. If you’re reading this thinking, "Sure, but that's easier said that done," I agree with you. Patience isn’t something that comes easily to me; and, sometimes, I even have to keep myself in check, because self-discipline is another trait every leader should have.
Perception, on the other hand, is a bit tricky, because everyone perceives things differently. If you’ve seen Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed film, Rashomon, you'll know what I’m talking about. The film portrays an incident witnessed by multiple people, who then describe the incident in very different ways.
So, keep this in mind when you interact with your audience: Why? Because, for the most part, there’s no clear-cut "right" and "wrong" here. Regardless of whether you agree with someone’s perception or not, you still need to remain engaged. Perception is only one part of the equation.
Probity is essential; I can’t stress that enough! Honesty and trustworthiness are the pillars of any good leader. If your employees and colleagues can’t (or don’t) trust you, you have a huge problem. Not to mention that no one will want to do business with you. People will follow only those they trust, and they appreciate candor and openness.
Honesty is often the trait that is most admired, but sometimes it’s not practiced as often as it should be. This raises an interesting question: If people want honesty, do they want the same measure of candor? I’m going to say yes! I don’t believe in being two different people, one at home and one at work.
I’m the same person whether I am in New York City or at home in South Dakota. It’s exhausting being two people, so I don’t even bother. I’m honest to a fault, and if other people can’t handle that level of honesty, don’t ask me to tell you what I think. I’d rather ruffle a few feathers and be honest than tell you what you want to hear. Whom does that benefit? No one!
Everyone likes praise -- especially when it’s earned. You don’t have to have a parade for every accomplishment, but a few kind words of encouragement can go a long way to foster goodwill and let your team members know they are appreciated. A leader who gives credit will definitely attract more followers and loyalty than one who is constantly bragging about "his" or "her" accomplishments.
Alternately, while it’s important to praise those who’ve worked hard to earn it, don’t point to colleagues or employees and say it was "all their fault." Good, effective leaders don’t use their influence to throw someone else under the bus. On the contrary, make situations into teachable moments. I can guarantee that employees will remember how you treated them and will never make the same mistake again.
Leadership should be something that is of, by and for the people -- kind of like our elected officials. The main reason for leadership should be for the benefit of the people. And, much like those in Congress, many so-called leaders in business are distrusted because they are seen as self-serving and primarily interested in their own benefits.
A leader who forgets his/her purpose won’t be a leader much longer. A leader who is secure in his or her own abilities will share the company’s success with those who toil day-to-day. So, be that second kind of leader.
A good leader will also realize he or she can’t please everyone all the time. Some will be pleased at certain decisions, and others won’t. That’s just how life works.
However, leadership means making practical decisions that cater to the majority of the group. It means being perceptive enough to realize when the majority are right. And it means being strong enough to take action without enjoying the support of that majority -- when the majority are wrong.
At the same time, a good leader stays strong to his or her convictions and accepts criticism, whether it's valid or not. Accepting criticism doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything, but learning to discern what’s valid from what’s bogus is crucial. What type of "P" leader are you?