Leaders are typically the figureheads of an organization and for good reason. Workers depend on a strong management team to coordinate and ensure that everyone else knows their job role. While in many cases this coordination involves overall strategic planning, it is important to also make room for the many soft skills that are generally found in great leaders. Technical training is helpful, but it is often the case that your soft skills are what inspires others to work.
Though different leadership styles can be used at different times in a business, some character traits are important for all leaders:
One of the most important characteristics of a business leader is self-awareness, and the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses. Very often, we see leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs that make the mistake of going to great lengths to cover up their weaknesses–instead of addressing them openly so an effective solution can be found. Or worse, they are not aware of what their weaknesses are at all, and instead play entirely to their strengths. Over time, this leaves them vulnerable, and their business often suffers as a result.
Treating others equally, no matter the circumstance, is a must-have characteristic of any effective leader. Without fairness, you have subjectivity–and subjectivity is very difficult to scale. As a leader, you don’t have the luxury of looking at every situation, conflict, or personal issue with a detailed eye. What’s more important is having principles and practices in place that ensure you reach positive desired outcomes, faster. This means handling internal company issues with clearly established principles that are fair to all.
Earning the respect of your team without having to remind them of your seniority is the definition of integrity. Too many leaders lean on their titles as a crutch instead of earning people’s respect by acting and behaving appropriately. Integrity is about more than just doing the right thing. It’s about standing for something bigger than yourself and setting a precedent within your business. After all, a company’s culture reflects its leaders. Which means it all starts with you.
Every business leader needs to be as much of a practitioner as they are a facilitator. Too many CEOs get comfortable in their corner office and stop being present in the day to day of their own businesses, which leads them to fall out of touch with employees, their peers, and sometimes even their industry at large. If you want to remain a leader–of your market, and within your own company–it’s crucial that you keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and stay on top of relevant facts, figures, and best practices.
- Work with your team, not just over them.
The best leaders work alongside those they lead — if not always, then periodically. In an entrepreneurial context, this means getting your hands dirty by taking over the social media now and then, helping to produce content for your business’s blog, answering some customer service requests yourself, or speaking with customers about what they love (or don’t love) about your product or service. To fully understand the people, you lead and how you should lead them, you need to do the work they do.
- Be humble.
It is beneficial for all parties if a leader can acknowledge when they make a mistake, then allow their team to learn from the mistake instead of sweeping it under the rug. Great leaders are not afraid to admit they are not perfect. When you are humble enough to share your obstacles — and the ways in which you have overcome those obstacles — with your team, you will strengthen the business and build a more cohesive culture.
- Understand that no one is perfect.
An effective leader pushes their team to strive for greatness but is not quick to judge or berate if that greatness is not immediately achieved. The leader helps their team build upon existing skills and create new ones. When someone makes a mistake, help that person learn from said mistake instead of scolding them for messing up. Progress takes patience, and a good leader understands that.
- Inspire people.
Why should anyone follow what you do or say? If your answer is just “Because I said so,” you are a manager, not a leader. People should follow you because they believe in your mission. To be a well-rounded leader, you need to share that mission clearly, concisely and in a way that inspires people to work toward similar goals.
- Keep learning.
For the sake of your team and your entire business, don’t become the outdated type of leader whose knowledge no longer has a practical application. Instead, strive to learn more about your industry, your team, and the world every day. Your overall perspective should expand to make room for new people and innovation. Those you lead will be more confident in someone who acknowledges that they don’t know everything but continues to learn.
- Don’t waste people’s time.
Long, drawn-out meetings are a thing of the past. Today’s workforce appreciates leaders who respect their time. Holding an hour-long huddle at the beginning of every workday will probably prove the opposite. Find ways to communicate with your team that are fast and effortless. Allow your employees to work the ways they find most efficient, whether that means alone, in teams or even at home. The more you show that you respect others’ time, the more your team will strive to meet your common goals — and the faster you’ll all get there.
Being an effective business leader takes years of practice. The primary reason it takes so long is because effective leadership means being able to balance several skills, all of which require their own learning curve. In fact, “skills” is not even the best word for it, they are virtues than anything else.