Leadership is probably the most discussed and least understood topic in organizations. The word itself yields more than two billion returns on Google. That alone should give you some idea, not only of its popularity, but also the wide range of opinions that surround it.
So at the risk of adding to the billions of words already written on the subject, here are three characteristics that the best leaders all share. If you master these, then anyone will follow you anywhere. Get them wrong, and you’ll be a one-man (or woman) band.
The first one is that you have to be trustworthy.
Trustworthiness is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s not your eye either. This characteristic includes many things.
You need to respect confidentiality and unless you’re told otherwise, everything you learn about people from their own lips is confidential. You can’t go off and start blabbing it to your friends.
Trustworthiness also means that you are a confidante. People need to feel that they can confide in you; that you will give them good advice on how to do something or simply what to do. And that could be everything from a task on the job to a personal issue. It could also be about how to advance their careers, even if it means moving to another company. Would you be able to give impartial, but valuable advice to a valued employee knowing that by doing so that person might leave your company?
Trustworthiness means that you will stand up for them in front of others in your organization. Are you someone who does that for your people, or do you wait to see how things play out, and then choose a side? If your employees don’t think that you’ll go to bat for them, then they’ll never follow you.
You also have to be truthful. Some managers will tell their subordinates whatever they think will motivate them to get the job done, whether it’s true of not. You can be sure that your untruths will find you out, and when they do, whatever trustworthiness you had will vanish, like steam from a kettle. You’ll never get it back. You might as well start circulating your resume.
The second characteristic is competence.
No one is good at everything. In fact most people really excel at only one or two things. You can probably do a lot of other things fairly well; but there’s probably only one thing that even approaches world-class competence. But that one thing needs to be whatever is vital to the success of the business, your division, your department – whatever level where you are in charge of. If your subordinates know more about how to create success than you do, then you need to do some serious study. You may never know as much as they do individually, but you sure better understand more than they do about how to make it work collectively.
The third characteristic is to be a good listener.
What do we know about the best listeners? Simply this: they say very little and ask good questions. The worst listeners do all the talking and tend to give advice that’s peppered with platitudes.
You need to develop the art of keeping quiet. Keep your opinions to yourself, and offer advice when you’re asked for it. If you don’t have a good answer, then say so. Explain that you’ll look into it, or that you want to think about it, and tell them you’ll come back to them in a couple of days. And then, keep your word.
Good listening means that you’re compassionate. You don’t blow off their concerns as being unimportant or trivial. If it’s important to them, then it’s important.
Compassion also means that you have to use your good judgment. Rules aren’t made to be broken, but neither are they carved in stone (unless the law or life and death make the alternatives unacceptable). If you help people as much as you possibly can, then they will reward you with harder work and loyalty. But if you show that you’re just like everyone else – that you really don’t care – then they will treat you and the job as if they don’t care. The more you give, the more you’ll receive. That’s how it works with people.
The ability to get others to follow you comes from giving people reasons to do so. If they can trust you implicitly, recognize your knowledge and understanding of the role your unit, department, or division plays in the success of the business, and know that you will listen to them with compassion, then they will follow you.
Over to you.