A few weeks back I posted an article called “No Fear” and I got some mixed reviews. I expected to hear from all the HR groups letting me know why you have to be so cautious when firing someone, even if they deserve it. However, what I wasn’t expecting, was all the negative feedback I received from others who felt the article was based on invoking fear in subordinates. Thus the reason for this post.
Throughout my career I have managed people with a strong focus on fairness, equality, and team related efforts. It has always been my primary objective to make sure that everyone on my team knows that their input and ideas are every bit as important as anyone else’s no matter where they fall on an organizational chart. In fact, before any meeting, the first thing I tell everyone is that all egos and titles are checked at the door. From this point forward we are all equals and only interested in coming up with the best solutions.
So when I started getting multiple comments on the “No Fear” post I felt I needed to clarify any misconceptions. Furthermore, the only person who posted on the actual blog rather than emailing me directly, brought up some very good points. So I wanted to cover my personal views on leadership.
My last post spoke directly to being held accountable by your team so I will not cover that in this post. However there are a few important things I think need to be expressed. While I will not speak to my own aptitude as a leader, I will express what I feel is important from a leader and what I expect from my superiors.
When you really break it down I think there are five basic attributes of an effective leader.
I will briefly cover each attribute to better illustrate their relation to effective leadership.
Communication. The most important thing in business is communication! No matter whom you are or how it applies. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that everyone is on the same page with all aspects of any project that a team is working on. Without clear and concise communication about what is expected, when it is to be delivered, and what the rules are to achieving the goal, all else is lost. Anyone who is not exceptional in their communication skills has little chance to be an effective leader. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure that these goals and rules are congruent throughout their organization, and it is 100% the leader’s responsibility to hold their superiors accountable for any ambiguity that could exist and cloud the overall objective.
Accountability. A leader must hold his team accountable for their performance as well as being accountable to his superiors for the overall performance of the team. That’s right! It is a leader’s responsibility if his team fails. No need to look any further than the mirror if your team has not met their objectives. A true leader will never blame a team member for the failed performance of a project or task when questioned by his superiors, nor will a leader accept any less from his team when deficiencies are discussed. It is a leader’s responsibility to let team members know when and why their performance is unaccepted at the time it is unacceptable, prior to the final outcome of a project. If a task or project was unsuccessful, that is the end result, and usually is a culmination of multiple failures under the leader’s control.
Resilience. A leader must have thick skin. You cannot be swayed by what others think of you. You also cannot be afraid of confrontation, nor losing your job. You need to be able to make business decisions that sometimes are not popular with your team. To be an effective leader, people are going to get mad at you, so get used to it or step aside. You cannot let office politics play a role in doing what is right for the customer, your team, and the bottom line. A true leader can be told their line of thinking is skewed and hold no grudges over someone bringing it to their attention. Finally, a leader has to be able to have heated discussions, arguments, and sometimes screaming matches, and in the end have no hard feelings. As a leader you must remember that most heated arguments are misguided passion. And you cannot hold a grudge against someone for being passionate about their job.
Integrity. Probably the most important attribute a leader can hold is integrity. An effective leader must have the trust of their team. Your team needs to know you have their back and that you will stand up for what you believe in. If you cannot stand up to your superiors to fight for your team then you are not a leader. Your word has to be gold and your team needs to have that foundation in order to produce at any effective level. If your team feels that they will be sold down the river when a mistake is made, no one will be willing to take any risk, and therefore nothing spectacular can ever happen. In the end, your word is a promise and a promise is nothing until tested. When the time comes, will you pass the test?
Humility. Throughout my career I have learned many things. The key to being an effective leader is always learning, always developing better, stronger, and faster ways of doing things. You can learn these things from anyone at any level. Build a team around you that isn’t afraid to challenge you and you will continue to learn from them and also continue to improve, as a leader don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I was wrong’. I have been doing this job for nearly 30 years and I still don’t know everything, so trust me, neither do you. Keep an open mind and stay humble. Realize that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. A leader should also stay positive and don’t get drug down into the corporate pits of cynicism and derision. I constantly hear people saying things like can’t and never. These are negative words that a leader should try to eliminate from their vocabulary. I have always believed that the one who says it can’t be done, is most often interrupted by the one doing it. So remember that you cannot go it alone, and in order to be a good leader you must first learn to be a good follower.
In closing, and not completely off topic, I was reading an article about effective leadership. I will leave out the source since I do not agree with some of their views. This article claimed that a leader that is fair and treats their team with respect is a less effective leader. In fact , this article claimed, that in the corporate world, it is better to be feared than respected. HAH! I couldn’t disagree more. I am willing to bet that in the studies that were conducted to support this article I was reading, that the manager lacked at least one of the attributes I mentioned above. In too many cases I see weakness being documented as fairness. I not only believe that you can be fair and tough at the same time but have a proven track record of doing just that throughout my career. Again, it is all about accountability. Holding people accountable at the time they should be held accountable. Catch them doing things right and reward with the same veracity as when you reprimand them for doing something wrong. If you follow that, along with the other attributes mentioned in this post, you will find yourself in a solid leadership role with the respect of your team.
Hope that clears everything up for all my followers and thanks again for the overwhelming responses I receive each week. Just a note though. If you post on the blog rather than emailing me directly everyone can engage in the conversation and contribute to all of us learning together. Thanks again and good luck to you all.