Five Questions About Leadership

Recently I was asked five questions about leadership by a friend of mine who was putting together a presentation for her organization.

Hope you enjoy.

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1. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

The most important characteristic a leader is: Integrity/trustworthiness. Skill, talent, or experience may launch a leader into the spotlight – but it will NOT keep them there. When people do not trust their leaders they will eventually no longer follow their leaders. Various leadership materials will list out different traits and characteristics that cause leadership success. And they’re good and contain good information. But, I’m telling you, without the integrity piece – the rest of it is worthless. Typically people buy into a person before they buy into a vision or a cause. If they don’t buy into the leader, the cause will fail. The only solution is to get a different leader. When I was working in sales one thing I learned was – people buy from people they trust. If they don’t trust you it doesn’t really matter how good the product is – they won’t by it.

2. What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

The number one mistake I have seen is autocratic leadership. When decision making rests on a single person the others, whether subordinates or not, feel devalued and unimportant. What’s interesting about this concept is that one doesn’t even have to be an autocratic leader to have this malady affect their leadership. Let me explain: if they generally collaborate and utilize group involvement in decision making, but just one time they make a decision without consulting others, it immediately makes those normally involved question their place and the respect they receive from the leader. When a leader consults, collaborates, involves others in decision making – others feel valued, respected, needed. Besides – having a group collaborate and brain storm almost always leads to better decision making.

Let me give you a paradigm, let’s talk about “Effective Decision Making Quotient” (I learned this concept from Stephen Covey): Let’s rank decision making on a scale of 1-10. 1 being a lousy decision, 10 being a perfect decision. Let’s also rank buy-in on a scale of 1-10. 1 being low buy-in from team members (including subordinates) 10 being high. If I make a perfect decision for my organization, by myself, and just tell team members the decision I’ve made – it will look something like this: I get a 10 for perfect decision, but I will only get about a 2 on buy-in (some will buy-in simply out of loyalty). 10 x 2= “20” on the Effective Decision Making Quotient.

Another scenario: let’s say a group of us collaborate on a decision, leaders, team members, employees, etc. As a result the decision itself may only rank as a 7 (there has to be some give, some compromise). But, because I have involved all the team members, the buy-in will rise to somewhere around an 8 (some still won’t buy-in because they didn’t get their way). That decision looks like this: 7 x 8 = “56” – a much higher Effective Decision Making Quotient. In this scenario, the decision itself may not be as great, but, the team is more energized, enthusiastic, vested in the outcome, valued, and will probably be more loyal to my organization and long term as a result. And, I’ve still got a really good decision on my hands. Plus, the more we collaborate, communicate, and learn to trust one another, the better decision making becomes.

So, really, which decision is better?  To top it off, research shows that the younger generation is much more interested in collaborative leadership than previous generations. So, if an organization is going to be effective and attract younger talent – they HAVE to move toward this model. Autocratic leadership, or even decision making = bad news.

3. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

I feel like I really answered this in question number 1 & 2. But, let me add, that character and integrity include the idea that a leader is competent. Just having the characteristic of integrity doesn’t make one a good leader. People want to know that their leaders know what they’re doing too, that they are skilled at. experienced, and/or knowledgeable about whatever it is we are striving for. If I don’t know anything about food preparation, regardless of how much I know about profit and loss, I will probably not be a good restaurant manager. At the very least, I will not garner the respect of my employees, which greatly derails my ability as a leader.

4. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Advice: 1. NEVER STOP GROWING! Read. Go to seminars or conferences. Ask people smarter or more knowledgeable than you.  Get a mentor.  Whatever it is – never, never, never rest on your laurels. The better you are, the better the organization, your family, and everyone around you will be. The best investment you can make in an organization is an investment in your own personal growth.  Most importantly – learn people skills! My God – I can not emphasize this enough. No matter what you know about whatever it is you do – if you can not get along with people you will fail!  Mark my words. as John Maxwell says, “you have to get along to go along.” Having people skills will carry you farther than any expertise ever would. I have seen many a positional leader fail because they did not know how to work with and deal with … people, especially difficult people. Responses and reactions are huge. Word choice, demeanor, presentation. Most importantly – care, concern. Again, let me re-emphasize – when you view people as valuable, you will succeed. Which leads to a second word of wisdom: surround yourself with good people. People who are maybe smarter or better than you. Trust them. Believe in them. Collaborate with them. Rely on them.  Never assume you know more or always have better ideas than the next guy.

5. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

Personally – I am always reading a book. I rarely read fiction. Not all my books are on leadership. The books I read are often about other stuff like marriage, or my faith, or what-not. But, it is still growth. And, as I said, if I am growing – it will have an impact on my leadership, my organization, and those around me. In fact, I have found the books I read on Marriage and relationships are often times more effective for my leadership than many leadership books, at least concerning building relationships, learning communication and dealing with people. (Click here for some info about communication in marriage or listening skills )

Second, I frequently watch and listen to podcasts of leaders I respect.  Finally, I am constantly observing and evaluating how others speak, respond, interact, etc. – trying to learn from others.

I hope this helps anyone looking for some basics on developing leadership.

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