Six Traits of Effective Leaders
“Generating and sustaining trust is the central ingredient of leadership.” Warren Bennis, from “On Becoming a Leader.”
One of my clients recently asked me to list the core dimensions of effective leadership. There are literally thousands of books & articles on leadership with more appearing every day. However, you can only slice and dice the subject so many ways. Having said that, I’ll defer to Warren Bennis, James Kouzes and Barry Posner, whose combined research and findings on the subject have stood the test of time and countless fads.
I lead with the quote from Warren Bennis because it resonates so strongly with the current crisis of confidence in American business leaders today. In fact, executives are suspect now more than usual, so extra attention to building trust through right (ethical) action is imperative. Bennis’s truism can and should be used as a guiding principle and Kouzes’ and Posner’s five dimensions, which follow, provide the legs that support that principle.
1. Challenging the process: Effective leaders search for opportunities, experiment and take reasonable risks to help their organizations. If you recall from my last executive briefing, I urged you to not get caught in a bunker mentality during these difficult economic times. Effective leaders don’t hunker down…they take reasonable risks.
2. Inspiring a shared vision: Leaders see their vision, and then they communicate their vision in a manner that taps into and engages the dreams of their constituents. During tough times, effective leaders communicate more frequently with their employees about where the company is headed, how they intend to get there and the importance of everyone’s roles. Effective leaders really do rally the troops.
3. Enabling others to act: Leaders foster a team effort by promoting collaboration through relationships and supporting personal development.
4. Modeling the way: Leaders model the way through their personal example and their observable dedication. They also act quickly to stop behaviors that breakdown trust and collaboration, e.g., unethical behavior, backbiting and unproductive complaining. In the wake of all the executive malfeasance, leaders are under increased scrutiny. Therefore, walking the talk is crucial, as it should be.
5. Management of respect: Great leaders notice and celebrate their follower’s contributions and achievements. There are many ways to do this and…they don’t have to cost a lot…most just require the leader’s attention and time.
Switching metaphors, imagine, if you will, that these 6 traits are 6 pistons within the leadership engine. Ask yourself, am I firing fully on all 6 cylinders? How do you know? Top flight leaders proactively and continuously monitor their performance and make necessary improvements. How? The best practices behind performance measurement and leadership development are based in the use of objective, scientifically valid assessments (e.g., 360 multi-rate feedback surveys or employee attitude surveys, etc.).
Subjecting oneself to multi-rater evaluations is not for the faint of heart, however. If the survey is conducted well (and they are too frequently poorly designed and conducted), you will solicit confidential input (without a guarantee of confidentiality people rarely give accurate feedback) from a wide variety of sources, some of whom will probably (should) be critical of your performance.
In essence, you will need to do what pro athletes do…view your game tapes. With good feedback data you will avoid spinning your wheels taking executive development courses/trainings that feel good (the leadership fad du jour) but have nothing to do with your particular developmental needs. Once you get accurate and useful feedback, you will be able to construct a program to hone your strengths, overcome or work around barriers and supercharge your effectiveness and performance.