Great leaders are the ones we aspire to be like, the ones we turn to for guidance, direction and inspiration. Great leaders are the ones who have helped us through enormous challenges and been with us to celebrate the best wins. They embody the characteristics and mindset that most wish to have but few consistently do. Consistency, especially in volatile environments is the most significant challenge. The question then becomes: what makes a great a leader?
Are there secrets to great leadership that any person can learn and adapt to their daily lives? What transforms a good leader into a great one? Some of the more notable leaders share similar philosophies on approach, behavior and thinking. But what it all comes down to though are certain attributes that are far more simple to follow. Attributes that get results. Here are 5 things great leaders do every day.
1. Communication Is Key
Seems easy enough, but it’s surprising how many people think they are communicating well but aren’t. The first 360 degree feedback I received in my career as an entrepreneur showed just that. I assumed everyone was aligned and connected to our mission narrative when in fact perceptions were extremely fragmented. I had lost some of what I learned on the battlefield.
An effective war-fighting unit moves, shoots and communicates seamlessly in volatile and uncertain environments. Communication being of the utmost importance. Everything happens at the speed of war, leaving little room for a lack of communication – or worse, miscommunication.
Great leaders communicate both well and often – through formal and informal channels. More importantly, leaders who achieve the most understand how to communicate with people in different situations. By learning to adapt to people’s varying learning styles and needs, great leaders can focus on the strengths that each person brings to the table and provide guidance when course correction is needed.
2. Make Thoughtful Decisions
The operative word is “thoughtful.” Some people suffer from analysis paralysis and never make any decisions, good or bad. Others make quick decisions based on fear and knee-jerk reactions. Neither is an ideal scenario from a leadership standpoint. A leader that can make a well-informed decision for the team is going to be more respected by peers, employees, and clients.
I learned this the hard way as a Navy SEAL in combat. In a firefight, sometimes there is no optimal decision. You’re taking enemy fire from an elevated position. You can either make the call to move into the fight, breach the building and clear your way up to take out the enemy – engaging in close quarters battle. Or, you can fallback across an open field exposing yourself to more enemy fire with no cover or concealment. Either way, a decision must be made. What you learn from that decision will be discussed and documented during the after action review – applied to lessons learned and future training.
Many times thoughtfulness isn’t equated with timeliness. In many organizations, time is a factor which causes people to rush into situations they aren’t ready for or commit to things they can’t support. Thoughtful decision makers create a better workplace environment because it allows for the best possible solution. By demonstrating careful consideration versus rushed responses, this kind of decision-making helps improve trust among everyone involved.
3. Inspire Others To Be Great
There are multiple things that can go wrong in a day to discourage even the strongest of leaders. However, great leaders understand the right time to share setbacks and learn from them and when to inspire others to dig deeper. There’s a fine line between putting up a brave front for the sake of the team and skirting transparency. It’s up to the leader to decide what’s the best motivation for the group.
Additionally, leaders who aren’t present, either physically or mentally, will have a negative effect on a team without realizing it. Many business executives are known for checking their phones while part of an in-person discussion, interrupting during important parts of a presentation, or showing up late to scheduled meetings. In my last company, during a major transformation, I layered in some additional leadership development training. During a two-day block focused on communication and emotional intelligence, one of our other senior leaders was on his phone the entire time – only chiming in to disagree with the consultant teaching the course! You can’t make this up. At the lunch break I asked him to leave.
These types of behaviors don’t inspire. In fact, they damage trust and credibility. The leaders that fall into these habits aren’t the greats.
4. Empower Others To Achieve
A common myth is that leaders are expected to do it all. The rise to the top doesn’t happen without being able to empower others along the way. It’s important for different reasons. One, it builds trust among a team and a willingness for others to step up to the plate when called upon. Secondly, it’s impossible to do everything in the hours allotted in a workday. Successful leaders understand their strengths and know when to delegate to others.
Great leaders surround themselves with smart, capable people. If you’re unsure about giving more tasks or projects to your team, ask yourself why. Is it because they aren’t trained to do what you need them to do? Or, is it because you feel like you have a hard time letting go? Sometimes it’s both. The more you empower others (authentically), the more engaged they will be. When a person feels true ownership of a task, they are more likely to complete it, and complete it well.
5. Exemplify Accountability
Great leaders are accountable to themselves and to others. Accountability lends itself to so many other important characteristics, such as trust and integrity, that if you are a leader that isn’t accountable, it’ll be hard to inspire and empower people. It’s not enough to say you are accountable and that’s what you expect. People have to see that you mean it -through consistent action and ownership.
As someone in leadership, it’s a given that all eyes on you. The team is waiting to see your next move and make their own decisions based on what the leader does. It’s an important responsibility that no great leader takes lightly. The best leaders take full ownership of the team’s failures and push success and gratitude out to the team. Rarely, if ever, do you hear them use the word “I” unless its to say, “I take responsibility for this failure.”
That is where a true culture focused on accountability begins and ends. And accountability has a direct and measurable impact on productivity, efficiency, growth and profitability. For better or worse.