I’ve been recently promoted and am working on the skills needed to lead a team. What skills or characteristics do I need to work on for my future success?
The MBA responds…
Thanks for the question, aspiring leader! Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside and network with some superb leaders from all types of organizations – startups to Fortune 100 companies and for-profit, non-profit, and public sector organizations. In and across these organizations, the most revered leaders all shared certain critical characteristics I would classify into the following categories: Contextual Abilities and fundamental General Leadership personality traits.
Given the global nature of business and how small the world is getting, people at all levels of an organization must be able to adapt, adjust, and accommodate to these rapidly changing and diverse environments – this contextual ability is most important to organization leaders. The diversity not only stems from pure demographics but also from values, interests, and ideologies (to name a few). Therefore, leader’s must possess and exhibit the following capabilities as well as adjust how they approach each capability depending on the context.
- Inspire with vision – As humans, we constantly need to know where we are going and we are constantly looking for guidance. An inspiring and compelling vision coupled with purpose clarifies, motivates and focuses people in an organization and can hold up against the strength of time. Every powerful leader I’ve encountered not only defined an inspiring vision but also was able to clearly articulate it.
- Lead with values – Without values, we lack direction and are void of any standards or codes of conduct. Without the right values, a leader’s alignment and allegiance to the organization can be easily dislodged by perverse incentives leading to poor decisions. These decisions not only directly impact his/her career but also impact the livelihood of many in the ecosystem.
- Be versatile – During my recent sighting of Arthur Blank (founder of Home Depot), I was reminded of a case study regarding Bob Nardelli’s experience at Home Depot which was the catalyst for this point. To be brief, Bob Nardelli was deemed to be the best candidate for Home Depot because of his tremendous experience at GE. However, he was quickly recognized to be the wrong candidate because he was imposing GE principles (lean operations) and could not adapt to Home Depot’s model (customer service driven). It is imperative that a leader spends ample time learning about the organization, talking to people at all levels of the organization, and most importantly, adapt to the organization’s culture and strategy to be an effective leader.
- Focus on results – Last but definitely not the least, every leader must be results-driven. Mastering the first three abilities increases the probability of delivering results; nonetheless, every leader must be able to define the proper results and appropriately execute to be able to deliver those results.
General Leadership Personality Traits
To differentiate the General Leadership Personality Traits from Contextual Abilities, you can think of these as non-contextual general personality traits that support an effective leader in his/her day-to-day activities. From what I’ve observed, these are by no means the only set of traits necessary to be an effective leader, but definitely rise to the top in terms of importance.
- Confidence – In my humble opinion, self-confidence is an absolute necessity for leaders. Leadership is all about setting lofty goals, making big decisions, and driving results home. Without confidence, it makes it very hard to ever commit and make all these things happen. I remember encountering a leader who was absolutely phenomenal, but when asked to make a decision, lacked the confidence. One way to build confidence, if you inherently aren’t a confident person, is to surround yourself with at least 5 trusted advisors who can provide you the information, the data, and the support that leads to confidence.
- Charisma – If there is one thing we can learn from our MI-5 friend James Bond, charm can get you very far. In leadership, genuine charisma motivates and inspires people. It has the power to persuade, solicit respect, and change hearts and minds. A simple hello in the hallway, scheduling lunch to hear what the entry-level analyst has to say, or answering your own phone once in a while (if you have an administrative assistant) are examples of things you can do to exhibit charisma.
- Strong Communicator – Some would argue that communication is the most important leadership trait. Communication is the key mechanism that enables and supports leaders to perform everything else discussed – to clearly articulate an inspiring vision, to clearly depict their core values, to exhibit confidence, to be charismatic and finally, to be empathic. A great strategy or vision sitting in a leader’s mind is useless if he/she can’t breathe life into it with words.
- Empathy – Leadership is all about people; leaders don’t exist without followers. Given the importance of people (read Mantra #1 here), I strongly believe a leader must be empathic. I remember listening to Mr. Tony Charaf, President of Delta Technology Operations, speak about Servant Leadership and telling a story about his emotional experience with an employee who suffered a recent loss. Long story short, this one empathic experience spread like wild fire throughout the employee network giving him increased credibility, enhanced employee morale, and increased employee motivation to drive results. Similar to charisma, genuine empathy is absolutely critical to see results like that; otherwise, you may see a negative effect and cost you your career.
The answer may have been longer than you were looking for, but it is important to understand the difference between Contextual Abilities and General Leadership personality traits as your grow and succeed in the future, Anonymous Aspiring Leader! Wishing you the best!