One of the most popular Dilbert comic strips in the cartoon’s history begins with Dilbert’s boss relaying senior leadership’s explanation for the company’s low profits. In response to his boss, Dilbert asks incredulously, “So they’re saying that profits went up because of great leadership and down because of a weak economy?” To which Dilbert’s boss replies, “These meetings will go faster if you stop putting things in context.”
Great leadership is indeed a difficult thing to pin down and understand. You know a great leader when you’re working for one, but even they can have a hard time explaining the specifics of what they do that makes their leadership so effective. Great leadership is dynamic; it melds a variety of unique skills into an integrated whole.
Below are 12 essential behaviors that exceptional leaders rely on every day. Give them a try and you can become a better leader today.
“Courage is the first virtue that makes all other virtues possible.” —Aristotle
People will wait to see if a leader is courageous before they’re willing to follow his or her lead. People need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show courage themselves when their leaders do the same.
For the courageous leader adversity is a welcome test. Like a blacksmith’s molding of a red-hot iron, adversity is a trial by fire that refines leaders and sharpens their game. Adversity emboldens courageous leaders and leaves them more committed to their strategic direction. Leaders who lack courage simply toe the company line. They follow the safest path—the path of least resistance—because they’d rather cover their backside than lead.
2. Effective Communication
“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” —Joseph Priestley
Communication is the real work of leadership. It’s a fundamental element of how leaders accomplish their goals each and every day. You simply can’t become a great leader until you are a great communicator. Great communicators inspire people. They create a connection with their followers that is real, emotional, and personal, regardless of any physical distance between them. Great communicators forge this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs.
“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” —John Maxwell
Great leaders are generous. They share credit and offer enthusiastic praise. They’re as committed to their followers’ success as they are to their own. They want to inspire all of their employees to achieve their personal best—not just because it will make the team more successful, but because they care about each person as an individual.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” —C.S. Lewis
Great leaders are humble. They don’t allow their position of authority to make them feel that they are better than anyone else. As such, they don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and they won’t ask their followers to do anything they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves.
“It is absurd that a man should rule others, who cannot rule himself.” —Latin Proverb
Contrary to what Dilbert might have us believe, leaders’ gaps in self-awareness are rarely due to deceitful, Machiavellian motives, or severe character deficits. In most cases, leaders—like everyone else—view themselves in a more favorable light than other people do.
Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence, a skill that 90% of top performing leaders possess in abundance. Great leaders’ high self-awareness means they have a clear and accurate image not just of their leadership style, but also of their own strengths and weaknesses. They know where they shine and where they’re weak, and they have effective strategies for leaning into their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.
6. Adherence to the Golden Rule +1
“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” —Jon Wolfgang von Goethe
The Golden Rule—treat others as you want to be treated—assumes that all people are the same. It assumes that, if you treat your followers the way you would want a leader to treat you, they’ll be happy. It ignores that people are motivated by vastly different things. One person loves public recognition, while another loathes being the center of attention.
Great leaders don’t treat people how they themselves want to be treated. Instead, they take the Golden Rule a step further and treat each person as he or she would like to be treated. Great leaders learn what makes people tick, recognize their needs in the moment, and adapt their leadership style accordingly.
“If you just work on stuff that you like and are passionate about, you don’t have to have a master plan with how things will play out.” —Mark Zuckerberg
Passion and enthusiasm are contagious. So are boredom and apathy. No one wants to work for a boss that’s unexcited about his or her job, or even one who’s just going through the motions. Great leaders are passionate about what they do, and they strive to share that passion with everyone around them.
“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” —Reverend Theodore Hesburgh
Great leaders know that having a clear vision isn’t enough. You have to make that vision come alive so that your followers can see it just as clearly as you do. Great leaders do that by telling stories and painting verbal pictures so that everyone can understand not just where they’re going, but what it will look and feel like when they get there. This inspires others to internalize the vision and make it their own.
“Just be who you are and speak from your guts and heart--it’s all a man has.” —Hubert Humphrey
Authenticity refers to being honest in all things -- not just what you say and do, but who you are. When you’re authentic, your words and actions align with who you claim to be. Your followers shouldn’t be compelled to spend time trying to figure out if you have ulterior motives. Any time they spend doing so erodes their confidence in you and in their ability to execute.
Leaders who are authentic are transparent and forthcoming. They aren’t perfect, but they earn people’s respect by walking their talk.
“Management is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it, not hard enough and it flies away.” —Tommy Lasorda
Great leaders make it clear that they welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than their own. They know that an environment where people are afraid to speak up, offer insight, and ask good questions is destined for failure. By ensuring that they are approachable, great leaders facilitate the flow of great ideas throughout the organization.
“The ancient Romans had a tradition: Whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: He stood under the arch.” —Michael Armstrong
Great leaders have their followers’ backs. They don’t try to shift blame, and they don’t avoid shame when they fail. They’re never afraid to say, “The buck stops here,” and they earn people’s trust by backing them up.
12. Sense Of Purpose
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” —Ken Kesey
Whereas vision is a clear idea of where you’re going, a sense of purpose refers to an understanding of whyyou’re going there. People like to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Great leaders give people that feeling.
Bringing It All Together
Becoming a great leader doesn’t mean that you have to incorporate all of these traits at once. Focus on one or two at a time; each incremental improvement will make you more effective. It’s okay if you “act“ some of these qualities at first. The more you practice, the more instinctive it will become, and the more you’ll internalize your new leadership style.
During one of Simon Sinek trips with the Marines Corps, he recalls a particularly harrowing situation in Afghanistan. A pilot provided cover for troops under fire, exposing himself to life-threatening enemy fire from both sides of a valley in Afghanistan. According to Sinek, there was so much that the tracer fire—the streaks of light that follow the bullets—lit up the whole area. Shells and rockets all aimed at the middle, all aimed squarely at the Special Operations Forces pinned down below.
The pilot without hesitation, together with his wing-man, provided the cover needed for the Special Forces to come out of that battle with no casualties. Trapped in a dangerous spot, the pilot shows the true meaning of leadership and service. He acted bravely, giving to others without expectation of anything in return. When asked the question, why would anyone do such a thing? The pilot answered, “because they would’ve done it for me.
This is what it means to work in a place in which the leaders create a circle of safety for their team and, in return, their people giving everything they’ve got to protect and advance the well-being of one another, their leader and their organization.
In Simon Sinek book, Leaders Eat Last, Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't; Simon illustrates his point by using the term the circle of safety to describe businesses that thrive because everyone inside the circle looks out for each other. The Circle of Safety wraps around the entire company, not just a limited number who have a title of authority attached to their name. There is trust inside the Circle, and you don’t need to spend your day looking over your shoulder with the fear of being betrayed or the fear that someone else is going to steal or profit from your idea.
Leaders that build their companies with a culture that promotes this type of trust know that their leader “got their back and vice versa. When there is a high level of trust in any environment, loyalty is extremely high and as a result, the environment build people confidence and the company becomes very influential and very profitable. This is why strong leaders, extend the Circle of Safety to include every single person who works for the organization while weak leaders allow the culture of a business to shift to individuals seeking personal praise or only looking out for their best interests.
When this happens, the company becomes divided, and the shield of strength is diminished. With clear standards for entry into the Circle and competent layers of leadership that are able to extend the Circle’s perimeter, the stronger and better equipped the organization becomes. Self-preservation is unnecessary, and fiefdoms are less able to survive. According to Sinek, it is easy to know when we are in the Circle of Safety because we can feel it. We feel valued by our colleagues, and we feel cared for by our superiors.
We become absolutely confident that the leaders of the organization and all those with whom we work are there for us and will do what they can to help us succeed. We become members of the group. We feel like we belong. When we believe that those inside our group, those inside the Circle, will look out for us, it creates an environment for the free exchange of information and effective communication. This is fundamental to driving innovation, preventing problems from escalating and making organizations better equipped to defend themselves from the outside dangers and to seize the opportunities.
Simon Sinek imagines a world where the vast majority of us wake up inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfill at the end of the day; I also believe that the fundamental tenet of each and everyone on this planet is to find your gift and serve it to the world. There is no excuse for any organization to create an environment where their employees do not feel safe, any.
If you happen to be in that type of environment, you need to explore your options because it is not good for your health. There are many opportunities and don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise. As a leader, your responsibility is to create an environment where your team feels safe, feel inspired and most of all feel fulfilled. When you are working in that type of environment you can pour everything into your work and your company will come out on top as a result.
As Sinek states in his book, a leader who takes care of their people and stays focus on the well-being of the organization can never fail.
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
On 28 August in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these immortal words to a crowd of over 200,000 people who gathered for the now historic march on Washington to demand an end to racial segregation in the USA, and for equality in jobs and civil rights. Dr. King use of the word, character, points to an individual who can be judged on their distinctive qualities and unique attributes as opposed to someone outward appearance.
As a leader, your character affects your leadership, and you can make a judgment of a person ability to lead; not by their physical appearance but by the content of their character. According to the late great Dr. Myles Munroe, if you have a questionable character, you can never be an effective leader. In Monica Patrick article the Role of Leadership, Monica shows how character and leadership go hand in hand, and any doubts about a leader's character can have devastating effects on an organization ability to become great.
Let look at how a leader's character affects these 4 critical areas of leadership.
Matter of Trust
Leadership must be trusted to make the smartest decisions and do the right thing, especially under challenging conditions. Trust is achieved by demonstrating competence and through strong character. Hiring executives must believe they can trust the leader as well as the employees who follow. Once a leader's character is proven untrustworthy, their ability to lead will diminish. Keeping leaders who have poor character can diminish all morale and create a very toxic work environment.
Good character in leadership commands respect. Besides being trusted, these leaders have the respect of their teams and even the competition. A person with good character is courteous, never demeaning and is accepting of opposing viewpoints. As a result of their willingness to listen to other people views, this increases their influence in the organization. People with poor character aren't respected because they have shown that they will not make good choices or make decisions that are in the interest of the team.
Leadership with good character brings a spirit of excellence to a business. These leaders expect more than the status quo from themselves and the people they lead. This character attribute encourages team members to learn more and do more. With excellence comes responsibility. This leader takes responsibility for their actions, even when it means owning up to mistakes. They have a strong sense of accountability and expect the same from their team members.
People with good character genuinely care about the people they work with. They have a real concern for others and work tirelessly to ensure their team interest is placed at the forefront of any decision made in the organization.
"Your gift can never protect your character but your character will protect your gift." Dr. Myles Munroe
A person's character, good or bad, can inspire others to greatness or discourage them from trying. Authentic leaders lead from a strong, personal, moral value that can have a profound effect on your organization. As a leader, you need to understand how your character affects your organization rise to greatness and how it can be a significant detriment to its success.
At Leadership First, we are committed to publishing the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles from the best leadership minds in the world. To help us achieve our purpose, all our leaders now have the opportunity to order and print their favorite inspirational leadership quotes from our new affiliate Leadership First Prints.
Our global fulfillment partner, Order A Print is offering one of the most advanced online printing services in the world and all our customers are 100% guaranteed of a premium product. Check out our website below and join your fellow leaders from all over the globe to place your order.