It takes good leadership to build an organization – but not just from a single leader. It takes a team of leaders to really get the most out of organizational growth. And this is true for building any kind of business, not simply managed services, or anything to do with IT. But to build a good business, the growth strategy must be supported by strong leadership that supports the “people” part of the business growth equation, and provides the guidance, mentorship and support they need to succeed.
When you look to build and scale your organization by adding layers of management over time to support controlled, sustainable growth, good leadership will help you get where you want to go faster, and with less mistakes made along the way. Good leaders influence and encourage their staff and other up-and-coming leaders to want to go out of their way to deliver a much higher level of performance that exceeds expectations.
You have worked with good leaders in your career – we all have, and they all share some common traits. These are the individuals that are dependable and get things done by taking the lead on initiatives but can also switch hats easily and become great team players that encourage, support, and help get the most out of others when accomplishing difficult tasks. And this ability is not due to their title, but because the team believes that the leader really cares about them and they believe in the leader’s vision and want to help them achieve that vision.
The true definition of leadership is the ability to influence someone to take action. It is the ability to get someone to do something by virtue of their ability to inspire respect in them. The following 14 leadership traits provide a good foundational understanding of what it takes to grow into an effective leader, and the history of these traits begins with the U.S. Army, with subsequent adoption by other branches of the military.
Here is my take on the 14 leadership traits of a good leader.
Exhibiting a consistent and objective ability to be just and administer justice is the practice of being fair and consistent. This is not only about holding individuals and teams accountable to conduct their work role at an expected level of performance, but also about delivering rewards for exceeding expectations. This also means treating everyone equally and fairly, lest you begin to erode your team’s trust and confidence in you as a leader worth following.
Good leaders must exhibit the ability to assess situations quickly to make the right decisions that may affect large numbers of staff, clients or vendors. The guidance here is not to delay making a decision through “analysis paralysis” – or waiting for a perfect solution that may never come. Instead, with a majority of the facts at hand and a high level of confidence in the analysis of those facts, an informed judgment can be made by the leader.
Dependability is the ability to react in a consistent, reliable manner no matter the situation or stakes. Good leaders exhibit this consistency and do not overcommit. In other words, they do what they say, and when they say they will do it. Are you the go-to person that others can depend on? Being dependable builds an amazing amount of trust and loyalty in others.
Initiative is taking action in the absence of direction. When we talk about building other leaders and are evaluating our people, a great way to gauge their initiative is to observe how they behave when their leadership or management is away from the office. Do they see that as an opportunity to take their foot off the gas and relax a little bit more? Are they more lax and less effective and efficient as compared to when you are all in the office together? A great way to measure someone’s innate initiative and leadership qualities is to observe what they do when they are not being watched, or when they know no one is around.
Another trait of good leaders is their decisiveness, or ability to make quick decisions and communicate them in a clear, direct manner so that there is no misunderstanding. Some of your staff may not excel in this particular trait, and that is ok so long as you identify this early and don’t force them into a position that requires rapid decision-making. This would not be setting them up for success, as it is not a component of their natural behavior, and they will struggle with it, creating tension and anxiety for themselves and others. Once you discover that an individual is not suited for a particular role, you should find them another seat on the bus that best aligns with their natural behavior, which helps them feel more satisfied, as they are happier and more productive as a result.
Being tactful when you are addressing someone may be challenging for you, depending upon the situation. If you are angry, upset, fatigued, or are just having a bad day in general, and you need to discipline a staff member or have a very direct conversation with a vendor that may be a bottleneck on a project, being tactful may be the last thing on your mind. This may be the third time you have disciplined your staff member for the exact same thing – and you’ve lost your patience with them, or your client has just let you know how they really feel about their delayed project, so you’re feeling the heat and are now ready to let off some steam with your vendor squarely in your sights.
These scenarios and others like them – even outside of the office with friends and family – are perfect opportunities for you to take a deep breath, count to five, and dig deep down to hone your skills at being tactful and learn to take the edge off of what you would otherwise say and how you would say it if you simply gave in to your emotions. Good leaders learn to disarm and defuse tense situations with tactfulness and by doing so, better those they engage with.
If there is one trait I feel everyone responds to that greatly elevates their perception of someone, that trait is integrity. This is all about a person’s character, honesty, and moral principles. As human beings, we are attracted to others that we feel are like us in terms of behavior, principles, and ideals. This guides our decisions in all aspects of life, and particularly when we are making business decisions such as hiring or bringing on a new client or vendor or strategic partner. If we feel they do not align with our principles or lack integrity, we simply will not hire them or bring them on as a client or vendor partner.
And others evaluate if they should engage with us based on the decisions we make in these areas as well, as it informs their perception of our integrity. This is especially true within your own organization. If your staff decides that you allow a particular individual to underperform without consequence or feel that the same rules do not apply to others as they do to them, they will develop an integrity problem with you. This is bad enough when it involves a peer but becomes much worse when the team begins to lose respect for the leader they report to due to a “do as I say, not as I do” environment.
If something must get done, it must get done, even without the best resources or circumstances, and the enduring leader will jump in when needed to accomplish the task or goal. Good leaders know that it takes mental and physical stamina to weather adversity and understand what it takes for them to perform at their peak. Therefore, they will ensure that they are well rested, are eating healthy and exercising to increase their endurance and reduce stress – in order to be better able to get through challenging, stressful times and be there and be present for their team.
A person’s bearing is defined as creating a favorable impression in appearance and personal conduct at all times and driven with purpose. Good leaders channel that demeanor and drive it into others by setting the example for them in terms of attitude and behavior. Your team needs to see you as their confident leader, not the frustrated, tired, stressed human you may be feeling like at any particular moment.
When you are under extreme stress and your bearing weakens sometimes you may behave or respond to your staff in a way that does not befit your title. If you are cranky one day because you had a difficult call with a client and one of your team walks into your office for help or guidance, how is your bearing?
Your staff and business partners and vendors need and expect to see the confident business leader you are working on building. Good leaders need to be mindful of how they engage with others and always present the appropriate bearing and demeanor that continues to motivate and inspire them.
Unselfish leaders make decisions that benefit as many as possible and do things because it’s the right thing to do, not because it personally enriches them somehow, or there is some special benefit to them. They live by the adage “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. They put their team’s welfare ahead of their own.
Courage is the ability to face adversity with strength and calm. While you are building your business and experiencing the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey, you will invariably encounter adversity. You are going to face difficult challenges and make tough decisions in growing your company; such as firing clients, disciplining your staff and more, and displaying courage to your team in these situations provides an example that keeps them calm and focused, and reinforces the fact that you are going to get through these challenges together as a team.
Knowing what to do and how to do it is a key trait of a good leader and sharing that knowledge with their staff through mentoring and coaching is seen by them as a key responsibility. In fact, one of the goals of leadership should always be to replace oneself, and this can only be done with a dedicated focus on creating other leaders through mentoring and coaching and providing opportunities for them to access additional knowledge through training and certification programs and giving them the opportunity to lead.
Loyalty is often regarded as the truest measure of a good leader – how loyal they are to others, and as a direct result of that loyalty – how loyal others are to them, as well as how long these loyalties last. True loyalty is not easily given, but must be earned, and the longer your loyal relationships endure, the higher you and your organization are perceived positively by others. In business, this perception is strengthened by the length of time your staff and clients stay with you, and this is a strong selling point for new prospects to engage with you.
Good leaders exhibit and foster enthusiasm in the performance of their and their teams’ duties. As the definition of leadership states, it is the ability to influence others to take action, and of course it’s much easier to do so when the leader is enthusiastic and spreads that enthusiasm to others.
Imagine the difference between tasking one team member to accomplish a milestone by simply ordering them to do it, and then tasking another team member with a similar objective, but this time sharing the “Why” of the mission and building excitement and enthusiasm in them by having them imagine the benefits the task will provide once it is completed. I guarantee that you will have two very different experiences.
The first team member may take longer, communicate less and miss deadlines. And while they may ultimately deliver the objective, it may not be a very positive journey for them…or you. The second team member may be so enthused that they put in the extra effort and burn the midnight oil to make certain that the project is completed as requested – and maybe ahead of schedule – all due to the way you presented the task to them by sharing the Why and building their enthusiasm to accomplish it.
Becoming a better leader entails focus, determination and doing the hard work even when it’s easier to do otherwise, but I promise you it will be well worth it – for you and everyone you work and interact with professionally and personally.
If you are seeking a great book to help you in your leadership journey, I strongly recommend reading John C. Maxwell’s The Five Levels of Leadership. Let me know what you think of it.
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