Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Being a Good Leader

The Leader
A few weeks ago, I came across an article that described the 7 top qualities of a C-level executive.  And while I found the article to be a good read, I also recognized that there are key differences between a C-level executive and a "normal" manager.  This got me to thinking about the qualities that make up a good leader in general.

The archetype for this person is my father who used his lack of a High School education as motivation to push himself harder than anyone.  He did ultimately get his GED and an Associates Degree via correspondence courses, but it was his ascension to upper middle management during his 30 year career with the company now known as CenturyLink that I focused on.  His qualities as a leader earned him such admiration that his former staff - he retired over 10 years ago - still respect him today as though they were still working together.  Here are the things that I learned from him over the years of my life.

Communication is the key to everything.  I remember him telling me this when I watched him study during those correspondence courses.  He was learning vocabulary and composition / communication skills at the time and remarked that good communication is what separates you from everyone else.  In a business setting, this means outlining your expectations clearly in a way where it is possible for your staff to perform self evaluations on their own to assess their progress.

Transparency earns trust.  In any relationship, business or personal, trust is the foundation upon which everything else rests.  In business, however, the manager / staff relationship has to be founded on the trust that the manager represents the staff and the collective best interests of the manager's organization.  This means that transparency in all things must be maintained.  Ulterior motives and alternate agendas do nothing but sow seeds of discord when they are discovered.

Empathy earns loyalty.  There is an expression that says "truth without love is cruel; and love without truth is foolishness."  Applying this to a business context, it is not important to also earn the trust of your staff but also their loyalty because it is that loyalty that will inspire them to greater heights.  Ultimately, the action of explicitly acknowledging to them that they are people with real world concerns both at work and at home will result in their support of you even if they are unsure themselves of the end result of your actions as their leader.

Respect is earned.  It's obvious that you shouldn't ask your staff to do something that you aren't willing and able to do yourself.  But it's better still if you don't ask your staff to do something that you aren't already doing.  Tom Brownlee was a manager of mine for a number of years, and he was the strictest person I've ever worked for.  He was incredibly demanding, was not afraid to tell you to your face when he thought you made a mistake, and set the highest standard for quality in any sales organization of which I have been a part.  And while he rubbed many people the wrong way, those who stuck it out did so for one reason:  he held himself to an even higher standard than he did his staff, and he acknowledged when he made mistakes himself.

My father had a similar work ethic.  He knew that he didn't have a four year college degree like every one of his peers.  But instead of allowing that to discourage him as a seemingly impossible mountain, he strove to outdo every one of his peers.  And ultimately, he became the only engineer in the history of the company to ever earn a top rating of 1 on his annual evaluation.

Being a good leader, regardless of whether you agree with this list of traits, enables you to be an effective one as well because not only are you respected and trusted when things are going well, but you are respected, trusted, and your staff reaffirms their loyalty when things aren't going well also.

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