Effective leadership is essential for the success of a company, but what makes a strong leader? Is it a set of good skills or is it something more than that? Before we can talk intelligently about leadership strengths, let’s first start with looking at two views of the definition of leadership. In their article, What We Know About Leadership: Effectiveness and Personality, Robert Hogan, Gordon J. Curphy, and Joyce Hogan define leadership as
… persuading other people to set aside for a period of time their individual concerns and to pursue a common goal that is important for the responsibilities and welfare of a group.
To persuade someone is to convince that person to do or embrace something by means of an argument. Persuasion, then, is an appeal to one’s intellect. Now let’s look at Dale Carnegie’s definition of effective leadership:
Effective leaders recognize that the processes, steps, and methods of leadership are achieved with and through people. … Effective leaders inspire and motivate those around them to become enthusiastic followers who are committed to achieving the vision.
To inspire a person means “to affect, guide, or arouse by divine influence. To fill with enlivening or exalting emotion.” Which kind of leader do you think is ultimately more effective? One who persuades or one who motivates and inspires? Study some of the most effective leaders throughout history – Steve Jobs, Andrew Carnegie, or William Wallace – and you will see how inspiring leaders are far more effective than any other at achieving their goals.
Effective leadership strengths can be looked at from two perspectives. From one view, effective leadership is about having the right skills and from another, it is about possessing the right qualities. Skills are something one can get better at with practice, but qualities are something that one must cultivate from within.
Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful — that’s what matters to me.
A leader’s genuine passion for the work he or she is doing is one of the best motivators for others. Take Steve Jobs for example. Many people would assume that his passion was for computers. But in looking at the above quote, you can see that his passion was for something far greater than just a machine. His real passion was in creatively providing the world with innovative and cool new stuff – not just any old stuff, but the kind of stuff that made people’s lives easier and much more fun. He was also deeply committed to excellence – excellence at every level possible – not only in the product he delivered, but also in the life he led. And he was able to transmit this commitment to excellence in a way that truly inspired those around him to be outstanding in every way possible.
As a leader, what is your passion? You have to be in touch with that in yourself before others can tap into it. And once you find it, you have to find a way to transmit that passion into your people like a guru transmits grace into a disciple. People who are passionate about what they do and why they do it will turn down more money to keep doing it.
Equally as important as a leader’s passion is a leader’s vision for the future of a company. Let’s take an example of the vision statement quoted from PepsiCo:
PepsiCo’s responsibility is to continually improve all aspects of the world in which we operate environment, social, economic – creating a better tomorrow than today. Our vision is put into action through programs and a focus on environmental stewardship, activities to benefit society, and a commitment to build shareholder value by making PepsiCo a truly sustainable company.
What is your vision and you will you bring that vision into reality? If you have a vision statement like the one above, you have to ask yourself how you get your employees to rally around that mission in such a way that it becomes their mission. This kind of statement has to be more than mere lip service. You cannot say something as bold as this, but at the same time, treat your employees like rubbish. You have to actively involve them in bringing this vision to life. What are you doing to create a better tomorrow for them? What do you do that makes them want to get up and come to work every day? As Steve Jobs says (again), “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you” – and in the same vein, when you have a vision that pulls people in, you do not have to use persuasion to get them behind you in pursuit of a common goal. Once you have a clearly defined vision, you have to bring your team together in order to make that vision come to life. We’ll talk more about that below.
There is really no long-lasting, effective leader who does not possess one central quality: self-awareness. Self-awareness is at the heart and soul of every great leader. According to Anthony K. Tjan, author of the Leadership book, Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck, self-awareness is “the one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader.” We can even say that self-awareness is the organizing principle of every great leader because all other leadership traits and skills revolve around having this strong center.
What is self-awareness and why is it so important to effective leadership? For one thing, people who are self-aware are acutely conscious of who they are at a core level. This kind of consciousness goes far beyond the simplicity of “I think, therefore I am.” You can be conscious and totally unaware of what you are doing. Someone who is really self-aware possesses the capacity for self-reflection, something which gives you a clear understanding of your own character. People who are self-aware know their strengths and how to build on them; and, they know their limitations and are not afraid to admit them. A leader who admits limitation is naturally more open to accepting and leveraging the strengths of others, something which is vital to bringing together a team loaded up with the right people.
Empowerment of Others
Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the biggest problems in companies today is lack of employee engagement. Last year the Dale Carnegie Training Center did a study on effective leadership, specifically to understand the factors that drive employee engagement. Those factors are an employee’s relationship with immediate supervisors, their belief in senior leadership, and their pride in working for the company. If a leader is endowed with passion and has a company vision toward which others will naturally be drawn, the last thing that needs to come together for a leader is a way to truly empower and engage his or her employees. This is where a leader’s inspiration and motivation serve a company at the interpersonal level.
A leader who is unable or uninterested in empowering and engaging those around him is profoundly unrelated to his team, something which certainly does not serve his company or himself. The Carnegie study showed that employees who are dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor are 80% likely to be disengaged from their work. Disengaged employees not only lack the inspiration or motivation to get anything beyond the minimum done – assuming they can even pull that off – but they are also bad for company morale. We go back to the question we posed about company vision. What are you doing to create a better tomorrow for them? This is not about giving people more money or rallying people behind a goal with a deadline. Empowering and engaging people is about finding out what really motivates them to be better people. The only way to find this out is to talk to them like real people.
Ask them what their aspirations are and how they think they can personally contribute to the company’s vision. Give them time to reflect on the question and come back to you with an answer. These kinds of questions not only inspire innovation in others, but also helps you build leadership capability within your organization.
If you really want to take your employees to the next level, you have to learn how to help them grow. Constantly seek out ideas from your team members and really take those ideas into consideration. If some of your employees are doers rather than thinkers, then offer them challenges they can step up to and meet with success. Give them recognition for the things they accomplish. And most of all, encourage your employees to give you feedback about what you are doing and how you are doing it. And again, really listen to the feedback and honestly take it into consideration. Let them see how you have integrated their ideas and put them in motion.