Looking at Five Inherent Traits of Strong Leaders

Why is one nation’s head of state well-regarded for his positive energy and ability to inspire his countrymen, while another’s leader embraces discord and divisiveness? Why is one company’s CEO known for her creative mind, but an abrasive management style that holds the organization back, while another’s passion and decisiveness move his people to embrace positive change?

Not every leader is a good one, and even those who have some of the requisite characteristics for greatness may not have them in sufficient balance to truly earn them the sobriquet of “great.”

Mountains of content have been written about what the best leaders look like and the hard skills and soft ones that they are either born with or develop to achieve leadership success. Of course, there are learned skills, acquired through education and experience – from finance and business operations to the ability to speak a foreign language. And the soft skills can’t be underestimated, like the ability to communicate and persuade others or showing a strong work ethic.

But, beyond “skills,” per se, leaders possess certain innate characteristics or traits that occur naturally or can be cultivated – and should be cultivated among managers who show the potential to be our next generations of leaders.

The essential traits of a leader go beyond the baseline givens of integrity, intelligence or emotional maturity. Some of them are hard-wired within natural leaders. Others need to be cultivated and polished over time. They include:

·      Positive energy. It’s far more productive to build up than to tear down and criticize. People who can stay upbeat, optimistic and encouraging even when circumstances are at their most discouraging will win legions of loyal followers.

·      The ability to energize others. It’s called emotional impact, and those who can make their own positive energy contagious to others come out on top.  Can you make people feel good about what you’re trying to achieve? Maya Angelou put it this way: “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

·       Decisiveness. This is nothing more than being able to act decisively on tough decisions, without waffling, without over-analyzing, without second-guessing. Leaders are able to make the tough calls because they’ve got the confidence to do so. It’s not an inherent trait, but one that that must be encouraged over time.

·      The ability to get things done. This is another trait that must be honed over time and requires self-confidence to carry through. It’s the rare leader who can execute and is also an effective strategist: A survey by PwC found only 8 percent of top leaders were effective at both.

·    Passion. It’s the passion that leaders have for their people, their work and their lives that produces the energy that drives everyone forward. If vision is “what you see” as a leader, passion makes what you see important.

Ultimately, these traits are bound together to create a total, inimitable persona that stands for something more than just “business as usual.”  Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz put it this way: “As a business leader, my quest has never been just about winning or making money. It has also been about building a great, enduring company, which has always meant striking a balance between profit and social conscience.”

Why Conscious Leaders Inspire Enhanced Productivity

The workplace is rapidly evolving and it’s more important than ever to ensure your employees are content. A happy employee, after all, is a more productive employee. Research has proven that when staff is actively engaged in their work, companies benefit as workers accomplish more and perform more effectively. They are also more likely to come up with innovative solutions to problems, as they feel personally invested in the organization’s success.

So, the question for employers is how do you keep your workforce engaged so they give you their best effort?

One answer is to strive to be a conscious leader, one who inspires their employees to go above and beyond average effort to exceeding expectations every time.

Before you can be a conscious leader, you need to understand the concept. A conscious leader is always thinking about how their supporters perceive them, and they work to ensure that perception remains positive. They acknowledge that they have strengths and weaknesses, and that others may have knowledge and skill sets they may not possess. They listen actively when others speak, and are open to new ideas. They treat those in their employ as people, not robots, and they understand that people at all levels are the heart of any organization.

In short, conscious leaders know and understand that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Not every executive is a conscious leader, but with practice, they can transform themselves into one.

Perhaps the most important step leaders can take is to understand the employee experience from the worker’s perspective. This requires a high level of objectivity on the part of organizational leaders, but it’s an essential first step. If leaders don’t understand how a workforce views their jobs or the organizational leadership, it’s impossible to improve the staff’s unique situations and subsequent performance. One has to be willing to come down from the safety of the executive suite and look at your company through the eyes of everyone working there. No role is too small to consider, as everyone plays a part in the success of a business.

A conscious leader is also increasingly self-aware. They regularly take personal inventories of their own goals and accomplishments, and allow themselves to honestly assess their own shortcomings. They’re not afraid to consult others for help or advice, and they don’t hesitate to transform their leadership styles when needed. In fact, many conscious leaders may work regularly with a professional coach.

Conscious leaders are likeable people who establish a corporate culture where their employees can thrive. They exude positivity and they encourage others to achieve and excel. They incentivize performance by offering appropriate rewards, and provide opportunities for their employees to grow and advance in their careers. They understand the value of investing in their workforce, whether it’s through specialized training or professional development.

A conscious leader is more than a capable manager, they’re an inspirational force that drives their company’s success.

Is Your Leadership Training Working? Here’s How to Look at It

What many organizations fail to come to grips with is the fact that “leadership” is more than just the here-and-now team that currently occupies the executive suite.

Studies by Deloitte, in fact, speak to the problem. While 86 percent of business leaders understand an effective leadership pipeline is critical to their organizations’ future, 87 percent lack confidence in their succession plans. In fact, more than half say a shortage of future leaders has hurt their business. When businesses spend over $15 billion on leadership training, something is clearly out of kilter.

A leader has more than a fancy title and a corner office. A leader is someone who can inspire and motivate others and make them eager to follow, who actively seeks advice and perspective in order to make the hard decisions, is authentic and trustworthy, thoughtful and empathetic and communicates well. A “leader” can just as easily be found on the factory floor as that corner office.

The challenge is to recognize those who have the potential and help them develop it. And then make sure that the training is working.

The problem lies in several areas.

One problem comes in the form of training initiatives styled in the one-size-fits-all manner. Further, required competencies are typically neither specific, nor necessarily aligned with what the business needs. Do you really need innovators – whatever those are – when your organization is so siloed that its future lies instead with skilled bridge builders who can bring people together?

Your culture and long-term strategy are among the most important indicators of the types of skills, capabilities and mindsets that need to be fostered in your leaders. As a result, leadership training should be grounded in the specific competencies your particular organization needs to ensure it moves forward. That way a culture of leadership can embed in your organization and ;any the foundation for success.

From there, another issue needs to be tackled: that of ensuring your program is mindful of the time-honored axiom: What isn’t measured isn’t managed. And so it goes with your leadership training. How effective is yours?

Ideally, you should use two approaches to evaluate your progress: one qualitative, the other quantitative. These approaches should tie back to your results-oriented, leadership training goals, and they should be evaluated against solid benchmarks.

Qualitative, of course, has to do with non-numeric outcomes, or impressions and feelings. To that end, feedback is key. How do your developing leaders feel they are doing? Can they identify areas where they’re falling short or exceeding expectations? And how do others who work with them feel? Are they seen as authentic leaders? This is how – through quizzes and surveys – you monitor behaviorial change so you know what skills are taking and where reinforcement might be needed.

Quantitative measures are more-by-the-numbers, hard-and-fast indicators that your program is working…or not. These can include tracking retention rates or engagement levels. Specific achievements can be monitored, as well.

Talent is a terrible thing to waste. The way to keep that from happening is to apply more rigor to your leadership training program and how you measure its outcomes. Remember that an investment in leadership training is not simply taking a product out of the box, but rather thinking about who you are as an organization and what you need. Only then can you thoughtfully program and deliver the kind of training that will impact your culture and your success for years to come.