“Good leadership” can be a subjective term that’s dependent on the venue. But in business management, some traits are universally desirable.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes something like this: Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.
Not a difficult sentiment to decipher. You could summarize the most commonly-cited leadership traits with that one sentence. Show, don’t tell. Lead by example. Pick your cliché.
You undoubtedly have developed – or are developing – your own leadership style, based, at least in part, on mentors from your own professional history. This process never really ends. We learn from mistakes, or from approaches that simply don’t work. And we sometimes have to adapt to changing workplaces.
But there are some core traits that tend to be present in the most effective leaders. See how you respond to these six questions about your own style.
Are you open-minded and flexible?
Learn to see things backwards, inside out, and upside down. — John Heider, Tao of Leadership
This one requires a delicate balance. The best leaders consider everything. They listen to others’ ideas and approaches carefully — without judging instantly — and weigh the positives and negatives. They’re willing to implement alternatives that make sense if they’re consistent with the company’s goals and culture and workflow.
Do you show confidence in your team, your products, and your corporate culture?
Let him who would be moved to convince others, be first moved to convince himself. –Thomas Carlyle
Another delicate balance. Be confident, but humble, too, though that sounds contradictory. Avoid hubris. Make your team feel capable. Your staff will follow your lead. And if you can’t feel confident, explore the reasons why and deal with them.
Are you collaborative and supportive?
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. — John Quincy Adams
You’re all in this together, to draw on another cliche. Your staff will respond more positively and work harder if they feel like you’re pulling for everyone’s success. Praise publicly, but give constructive criticism in private.
Can you show empathy without being a pushover?
A leader is a dealer in hope. — Napoleon Bonaparte
Be empathetic, to a point: Employees don’t like to see co-workers continually skating because of ongoing personal or professional problems. You want employees to focus on overcoming difficulties with an eye toward full participation again.
Are you consistent?
Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise. — Woodrow Wilson
Again, be willing to listen to alternatives. But your staff can spot inconsistent decisions. Stick to your guns, and don’t be untrue to your principles.
Are you decisive?
Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader. — George S. Patton
That’s the bottom line. Be true to yourself, someone said (in different words), and even the hard decisions should come easier.