John F Kennedy once wrote that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” As the leader of an entire nation counting on him to steer them through delicate foreign relations, economic difficulties, racial discrimination and other domestic issues, this US President knew he couldn’t afford to let his leadership skills slide.
Being a good leader isn’t something you can memorise, or take lessons for then consider yourself an expert, afterwards. While skills and certain principles may be taught, it’s up to you to make a conscious effort to put them into action.
There’s no real substitute for the experience you gain in the field as you pay close and careful attention to the impact of your actions on those you lead. This doesn’t mean, however, that the skills that a good leader ought to have can’t be learned or imparted in the form of guidance or mentorship.
A Guide Designed for Those Who Guide
To help you and the leaders in your organisation evolve your leadership abilities, we’ve put together this compact reference as a guide that acts in much the same way as a lighthouse for ships on a turbulent sea. It can be easy to lose sight of your role’s meaning or purpose amid the frenetic activity of your day-to-day, and the uncertainties of today’s business environment.
With entire teams of people and their respective leaders clamouring for your attention and multiple responsibilities demanding to be fulfilled, it can be helpful to take a step back and remember
- What it means to be a leader
- What are the critical traits a leader needs to have
- What a leader needs to do to address internal issues within the organisation
- How can a leader rise to the occasion to meet external challenges
This “quick refresher course”, if you will, just might help you keep your leadership goals in sight and within reach, and keep you on the path toward achieving them.
What It Means To Be A Leader
There are many definitions of who a leader is and what he’s meant to be doing, but they all might be distilled into this basic concept: A leader is a leader not because of the title he has, but the role he has to fulfil—and that role is to serve those he leads, and not himself. This means putting the needs of the organisation first, and making sacrifices toward this end.
Being a leader means being responsible for everyone in your charge, and constantly thinking of the greater good, which sometimes means overriding the individual. The larger the organisation or the more people you have under your care, the greater your responsibility.
This is one of, if not the guiding principle in making the tough decisions which, as a leader, are your job to make on a daily basis. When things get complicated, fast, ask yourself how a course of action in one way or the other affects everyone involved—from key management all the way down to maintenance. Everyone, not just a chosen few, must be able to benefit.
What Are the Critical Traits A Leader Needs to Have
It’s interesting to note how a list of characteristics that people expect their leaders to have, might often be seen on similar lists pertaining to heroes, idols, or anyone people look up to. But while we offer you a checklist of 20 Qualities of a Good Leader in Times of Change, we also point out that these qualities generally aren’t acquired overnight, nor on your own.
When we say “on your own”, we refer not to your personal initiative or drive for self-improvement, but rather to the fact that leadership doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Qualities on our checklist such as vulnerability and generosity, for instance, particularly require interaction with others to develop.
After going through this checklist and ticking off such qualities as you consider yourself to possess to an acceptable degree, it might be helpful to look back at the list later on to see whether you’ve improved. You might even make one or more of these qualities the object of a sort of “new year’s resolution” for you to work on.
What a leader needs to do to address internal issues
In every organisation in every vertical across industries, teams are made up of people, and no two people are ever alike. As diversity in terms of background, skills and specialisations continues to abound in the workplace, it falls to you, as a leader, to make sure everyone is able to work together as smoothly as possible.
We offer you some advice for How to Manage A High-Performance Team Made Up of Different Personalities, reiterating the need for empathy and the ability to reach out and connect with people. While office cultures vary between organisations, the need for mutual respect, tolerance and trust between co-workers is a must at any level.
If a breach in this trust should occur or a line should be crossed, which does happen sometimes even in (or sometimes especially in) the closest-knit teams within “family atmosphere”-type cultures, it falls to you to restore harmony. You might refer to your organisational values and ask yourself, again, what the best course of action would be as regards the greater good.
How Can a Leader Rise to Meet External Challenges
- Political issues
- Economic trends
- Technological developments
- Natural disasters
- Social questions
These are just some of the myriad factors affecting business growth, and as a leader, it’s your duty to see that your organisation is able to react in a timely fashion and to adapt accordingly.
Providing a prompt and effective response to challenges as they happen is the function of business agility. An organisation encumbered by a rigid hierarchy or bureaucratic procedure, for instance, would find itself quite unable to move quickly should an opportunity (or an impending disaster) present itself. Review the reasons Why A Good Leader Needs to Understand Business Agility.
It’s not enough for an organisation, however, merely to react—especially in the midst of the likes of a downward trend or negative backlash to an unforeseen event. An organisation must be able to adjust or change its team structures and business processes, for instance, and it’s up to you as a leader to effect these changes as needed.
This entails keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn, and while it’s undeniably admirable to adhere unflinchingly to a set of values and a work ethic, clinging to outdated procedures or methodologies will do your organisation no good. Ask yourself, Do You Practise Adaptive Leadership? to find out whether you’re the kind of leader your organisation needs.
Learn From Other Leaders
Being able to adapt, or to evolve as a leader comes with the territory of business growth. As with growth in general, not changing into something better is precursory to death—or stagnancy, at best. You owe it to the people you lead to keep on learning to become a good leader. It’s your responsibility to them as well as to yourself.
The good news is that you’re not alone—nor should you be. At the heart of your evolution as a leader is the ability to listen and empathise with the needs of those around you, within and outside of your organisation. Learning opportunities are just waiting to be found within every interaction; all you have to do is to seize them as they come.
Find guidance and mentorship specially designed for leaders and leaders-in-the-making with trainers who know what it is to be leaders, themselves. On top of decades of experience in leadership and management training, executive coaching, and business agility, our trainers have held key management positions in leading multinationals across the region and beyond.