A Strong Role Model
In survey after survey, pollsters find that the single most important attribute in a leader is honesty. Unfortunately, the same polling finds that it is sorely lacking in the world around us. Only about one in five people say they trust business leaders and, unsurprisingly, even fewer trust government officials to tell the truth.
Trustworthiness is not just an admirable trait; it’s beneficial to the organization as a whole. Teams that trust their leaders outperform others, and there’s a sense of camaraderie that evaporates when trust is lost. Why inject any uncertainty into the workplace when you can be honest and straightforward with your team?
Another thing to keep in mind is that honesty and integrity don’t mean that everything is always going to be pleasant. Not everything will be. Honesty means telling people the truth even when it’s difficult – especially when it’s difficult. Don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Being crystal clear with your team invariably makes working together easier in the long run.
Without honesty, it’s impossible to be an effective leader for long. Those around you need to feel that you’re trustworthy, a straight shooter. Leaders must be accountable for the actions they take and right any wrongs that may arise from their decisions. As the head of a business or organization, you’ll make important decisions that may affect hundreds or thousands of people. And, unfortunately, sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision. That’s okay. But you must be honest about it and move forward. Attempting to cover it up will do nothing but alienate those around you. People may not see everything exactly as you do. But coming forward when mistakes are made, offering solutions and soliciting feedback about how best to progress are key ways for a leader to grow individually and with their team.
In sum, be ethical. In the long view, nobody ever loses by doing the right thing.
Next, confidence. If you’re already in a position of leadership, you probably exhibit some degree of confidence. Perhaps it comes to you naturally. The focus here is on how you can extend that confidence to inspire confidence in others.
Of course, you can’t “make” someone else confident. It’s something they have to want for themselves and will have to develop on their own. But you can take positive steps to help them on that journey.
As a leader inspiring confidence in others, as with many of the traits covered here, you must lead by example. Show people that it’s okay to be confident and how to leverage that confidence for success in life and business. Be a role model.
Ultimately, in trying to help build the confidence of your team, just be there for them. Encourage them; be available for them to bounce ideas off you. Even if you haven’t been in their exact position, you’ve likely faced similar challenges in your career. Commiserating with them is going to bolster your relationship and inspire confidence.
Confidence may sound like an abstract concept. But there are a couple things at play, and one is something we all know about: self-esteem. As a leader, you’re in a powerful position to help encourage the self-esteem of those around you. It’s easy to do. Consider the intrinsic value that each person has and highlight it. You’ll see that the benefits far exceed your expectations if you invest in your human capital. And best of all, it’s free!
Here’s something else to consider when trying to bolster the confidence of your team members: Celebrate what’s right. Too often, we get caught up in nitpicking the issues – highlighting the low lights, as it were. How would it change your workplace environment if instead of focusing solely on the negatives you put equal emphasis on everything that’s going right? Most of the work you and your team do probably is going well, or you wouldn’t still be here. Take a moment to celebrate the small victories, and make certain that people know when they’ve done a good job, even if it’s on little things.
Finally, create an environment that’s conducive to growth. We discussed earlier the concept of providing room for employees to grow and become independent in the workplace. People who feel they have the ability to try out new things are going to be productive and innovative, as opposed to those who feel handcuffed to old ways of thinking.
But in giving creative freedom to your employees, you must create a framework. That way you’ll have a good grasp of what works and what doesn’t. Karin Hurt, a former Verizon Wireless executive, calls this “scaffolding achievements.” People can thrive with leeway, but there has to be some type of framework that helps them build toward the end goal. That means you, as the leader, know where checkpoints are and how to measure success. It also gives you more opportunities to celebrate and encourage incremental victories.
Next up are passion and commitment. These are essential in a leader. You must convey a sense of urgency and interest in your mission. If you don’t care about your work, why should anyone else?
Passion is critical to moving a business or organization forward. We’ve covered the importance of a leader’s vision, but passion is the fuel that powers that vision. It’s one thing to have a preferred outcome but another entirely to have the energy and commitment to see it through.
How do you move your team to be likewise motivated? The concepts presented in this book are useful for you as a leader, but the best results will come when your entire team has bought into them. First, you need to understand these folks who work for you. You can’t motivate people without first knowing what motivates them.
Another way to keep motivation high is to facilitate new opportunities. People languish if they don’t improve their skills, and their work gets boring if they aren’t challenged by and intrigued with their tasks. With automation and artificial intelligence playing an increasingly larger role in everyday life, workers need to keep learning. Your education doesn’t end when you graduate from college; you and your team should be learning something new every day.
You Make the Call
Given that our presidential example in this chapter is U.S. Grant, let’s turn to someone who was likewise a military man to draw inspiration for sound decision-making. Brent Gleason is a contributor to Forbes who started a successful business after retiring from the Navy SEALs. He outlines four ways that leaders make decisions, the four C’s: Command, Collaborative, Consensus, Convenience.
Command decision-making is a style in which the leader makes decisions based on their own opinions, without input from others. Collaborative is similar in that the leader makes the decision, but it’s informed by input and collaboration. Consensus works in a similar way, but instead of the final decision being made by one person, it’s a collaborative, somewhat democratic process. And finally, convenience decisions are those in which the leader delegates to others the decision-making.
Each of these four methods of decision-making have their own merits and demerits, and you should find what works best for you and your team. Do you have a tight deadline and explicit instructions? A command decision-making process might make most sense. But if you have an open-ended project that requires a new way of thinking, convenience decision-making might be best, allowing different people to pitch ideas and take ownership.
The difficulty associated with decision-making is one reason why it is so important for you to invest in your team. You’ll find it difficult to succeed as a leader if you have no one around you to trust for counsel. But remember, you must be trustworthy yourself so that members of your team can consult you for advice and expect an honest response. Nourish an environment that’s conducive to all-around honesty. Your subordinates won’t thrive if they feel that the feedback they give you is of lesser value than that which you give them.
It’s also key in decision-making processes that you don’t lose sight of the end goal. We can become so hyper-focused on what’s right in front of our faces that we don’t consider the implications of the decision in the grand scheme of things. This is another argument for a solid team around you. Multiple folks at the decision-making table means that it’s less likely for you to miss something important. Your team will fill in the gaps, and the value of everyone as a team is greater than the sum of its parts.
While you want multiple voices advising you, make sure they aren’t all singing the same tune. One of the worst mistakes a leader can make is to surround oneself with “yes men” who are more interested in pleasing the boss than serving the greater cause. While some among them may have good intentions, they don’t serve you well. Extra voices parroting your existing line of reasoning will only cloud your judgement.
That brings us to the final point in decision-making: Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions. As a leader, you’re entrusted with the decision-making process; ultimately, you make the call. Don’t defer the tough decisions; make your best effort to be informed, and move on.
That’s a good segue into the next trait we’re going to consider: accountability. Like many of the traits and attributes discussed here, accountability requires a team approach. It requires trust from all parties involved.
There are plenty of ways to emphasize accountability, but here are a few easy places to start. First, as I’ve stressed, you must be forthright when mistakes are made. There is no benefit to the organization or business if when something goes awry you try to cover it up. Asking others for help, or for their input, is not a sign of weakness. It’s important that a leader is available and communicates, not only when things are good, but especially when they’re not. You need to be a rock.
As an accountable leader, you must take responsibility for everything that happens. The plaque that sat upon Harry Truman’s desk read, “The buck stops here.” He was personally accountable for everything his administration did. That’s worth keeping top of mind when you recruit new people and train existing workers: Are you showing them the best way to represent the organization? Would you be proud to defend the work they do? Would you be proud to defend your own work?