In times of economic uncertainty, workers are looking for their employers to show leadership. So what does it take to become a successful leader? There are 15 key characteristics that make a leader.
1. Leaders create order from chaos. If there is no chaos, then there is nothing to put into order and, therefore no energy and creativity.
2. The leader is rarely — possibly never? — the best performer. Leaders are field marshals, organising resources and talent. They are rarely the best performer, always looking for smart people (smarter than them) and put them to work at what they are good at.
3. Leaders make it happen. Like the pizza man, leaders deliver. In heady times, cool and flash count. Now it’s all about performance, improved behaviour and outcomes.
4. Leaders design their own future. Design your next five years, decide to be a leader, or find a leader to work for, as only leaders survive.
5. Leaders triumph through orchestration. Great quote from Tom Peters: “Vision, sure. Strategy, yes. But when you go to war, you need to have both toilet paper and bullets at the right place at the right time. In other words, you must win through superior logistics”
6. Leaders thrive on ambiguity. What is going to happen in the next five years? Who knows? But we know this for sure, it will be a roller coaster ride; the recovery will be dramatic and swift. Making fact based decisions will be important, but what about making them on less than complete and accurate data. Leaders wallow in ambiguity.
7. Leaders improvise. Change is with us, it’s always been with us. In the nineties it was the Internet. We learnt to deal with that. Now it’s social media. Leaders need to understand the fundamentals (there are no ‘new’ fundamentals) and integrate them with the new environment. Be ready to move and adapt. Re-structure, refine, adapt and change.
8. Leaders trust their instincts. Usually our intuition is actually more rational then we think. More often it is more accurate on the down side, and tends to be overly optimistic on the upside. If you aren’t feeling a sense of inspiration, stop, wait, and look for more information. Leaders act from inspiration.
9. Leaders bring in different people. Leaders know they need the right person for the right job, this creates diversity. Leaders bring in new people just to refresh the gene pool, if you need new thinking, go and acquire some new thinking. The first step is to open you mind to accept you need new thinking.
10. Leaders make mistakes — and make no bones about it. Winston Churchill said it best: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” Most of us don’t get it right the first time, or the second, or third. That’s fine, at least you were trying and making a stand. As long as they were different mistakes. Recognise mistakes early, deal with them, and then forget about them and move on.
11. Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. Successful leaders build leaders, they create environments that allow people to take risks, make mistakes without fear of retribution. Leaders measure their success by how many leaders they develop.
12. Leaders wear their passion on their sleeve. Tom Peters again: “There’s absolutely no question in my mind: Leaders dream in Technicolor. They see the world in brighter colors, sharper images, and higher resolution. Leadership, in the end, is all about having energy, creating energy, showing energy, and spreading energy. Leaders emote, they erupt, they flame, and they have boundless (nutty) enthusiasm. And why shouldn’t they? The cold logic of it is unassailable: If you do not love what you’re doing, if you do not go totally bonkers for your project, your team, your customers, and your company, then why in the world are you doing what you’re doing? And why in the world would you expect anybody to follow you?”
13. Leaders know energy creates momentum. Every successful business, and project, requires momentum to keep it moving. But creating momentum, getting the project off the ground requires an enormous amount of energy. This is the role of the leaders, once it is in motion; the leaders job is guide it in the right direction and make the necessary course correction. Don’t underestimate the amount of energy required to create momentum. Benjamin Zander said it best: The job of the leader is to be a ‘dispenser of enthusiasm.’”
14. Leaders have courage. Courage is the trait the ancient Greeks held to be the foundation of all other virtues. What’s the difference between an average leader and a great leader?
15. Leaders give respect. Leaders care! Because they actually give a damn about what they are doing.
Daniel Lock is the principal of Daniel Lock Consulting a firm specialising in helping leadership improve profitability and productivity.
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